When you need specialist NHS support, like hospital tests or treatment, you often need a referral from your GP first. Find out what this includes and what to expect.

What is a referral?

Your GP is often the first person you speak to when you have a health issue or symptoms you’re worried about. GPs and other health professionals at the practice are highly skilled and can offer medical advice, provide diagnoses and prescribe medicines for lots of common conditions.

Sometimes, your GP might decide you need to see another healthcare professional for specialist tests, treatment or care. When they request specialist tests or treatment on your behalf, this is known as a referral.

Examples of referrals could include:

In most cases you need to see your GP or speak to a doctor at a hospital to get a referral to another NHS service. Although sometimes, other healthcare professionals, such as a nurse, can make referrals as well.

You can also sometimes self-refer to further NHS support, like mental health talking therapies.

What’s your experience?

Waiting for your GP to refer you for more support can take time. Help us identify what can be better by sharing your feedback with us online. Whether positive or negative, the NHS needs to hear your views.

Share your feedback

What can you expect?

Unless you can self-refer, specialists will only see people with a letter of referral from their GP or a hospital doctor.

Your GP or the hospital doctor supporting you should:

What are people’s rights?

The NHS Constitution for England formally states that:

The Constitution also sets out that once you’ve been referred, you have the right to start some treatments within a specific timeframe. This time starts from the day your appointment is booked, or when the hospital or service received your referral letter:

The NHS also states that in terms of choice and preference, you are entitled to ask for a referral for specialist treatment. However, the final decision will always be down to your GP or the hospital doctor responsible for your care. If you have been denied a referral you are also allowed to seek a second opinion from another doctor.


Meanwhile you can leave general feedback about your GP surgery here