Going into hospital as an inpatient or outpatient

Depending on your circumstances, you could be admitted as

  • an outpatient – you will go to hospital for an appointment but not stay overnight
  • a day patient (day case) – you will be given a hospital bed for tests or surgery, but will not stay overnight. This can include treatments such as minor surgery, dialysis or chemotherapy
  • an inpatient – you will stay in hospital for one night or more for tests, medical treatment or surgery. Also read our guide about having an operation

What is an admission letter?

Once your hospital appointment is booked you'll receive an admission letter, which provides you with details such as your hospital admission date or the ward you are going to be in. If you need to follow any specific instructions before your treatment, then those are also included in the letter.

Contents of an admission letter:

  • the date and time of the appointment
  • contact details of the hospital department or ward in charge of your care
  • information about where you have to go on the day
  • the name of the consultant-led team in charge of your care
  • information about any tests you may need to have before your appointment
  • information about any samples (urine, stool or medicines) you may have to bring with you on the day
  • information about whether you can or cannot eat or drink before your hospital appointment, and how long for

Besides the items listed on your appointment letter, you may also want to bring the following with you:

Call the hospital in advance if you have any special needs or require a translator. If you have a disability you should be given information you can easily understand and any support you need to communicate effectively with the people caring for you. The Accessible Information Standard spells out what you can expect.

You can also read about going into hospital with a learning disability.

Cancelling and rearranging appointments

If you are unable to attend the allocated appointment, inform the hospital in advance and they will try to arrange a new appointment. Many appointments are wasted each year because patients do not turn up on the day.

If you don't come for your appointment, you will lose your referral and will have to ask your GP for a new one. This also means the waiting time clock will start again. Read the guide to waiting times for more information.

If you have decided not to go ahead with the operation or procedure, you will be referred back to your specialist. Find out what should happen if the hospital cancels your operation at the last minute.

If you happen to fall ill in the weeks before your appointment, let the hospital know, especially in cases of diarrhoea and vomiting. You may be asked not to come and be offered a new appointment. This is to help prevent and control the spread of infections in the hospital.

Pre-admission assessment

Sometimes you will be asked to attend a pre-admissions assessment (PAA). This may be an appointment with a nurse or doctor, or a telephone assessment. You will be asked questions about your health, your medical history and your home circumstances.

During the PAA you will be given advice about your admission, including where to report to. You may be asked not to eat or drink (nil by mouth) before coming into hospital as this may interfere with your test or operation. You will also be given advice about when to take your normal medication if you have any.

You may be screened for your risk of MRSA and assessed for your risk of hospital-acquired blood clots.

During the PAA, the nurse or doctor will decide whether you are suitable for a day procedure or whether you will need to stay in hospital to have your operation. Also read our guidance about preparing for surgery.

Admission form

Upon your arrival at the hospital, you will need to fill in a submissions form and provide details for the person you named as an emergency contact.

If you have any special needs that you haven't mentioned prior to your arrival, state those on the admission form. You might want to discuss:

  • any routines you have
  • specialist equipment that the hospital may not be able to provide
  • having a carer present with you at certain times
  • access to facilities, such as bathrooms and toilets
  • using a fixed loop or subtitles for television or radio

Find out whether your hospital stay affects your benefits. Read about financial help if you are disabled on GOV.UK.

Media last reviewed: 13/02/2018

Media review due: 14/02/2021

Page last reviewed: 07/03/2016
Next review due: 07/03/2019