Many clinics and hospitals require a GP referral letter before they can provide specialist treatment. Referral letters are often addressed to an outpatient clinic, a type of specialist or a named doctor. It will describe the reason why you’re being referred, as well as your past medical history, including medications, allergies and any other relevant information.
NHS GPs and private GPs can both write referral letters for private treatment. If you need to see a specialist under the NHS, we recommend that you get referred by your NHS GP.
Do you feel like you need specialist treatment but are unsure where to start? You’re not alone, referrals can be difficult to navigate. This chapter will cover common questions about GP referrals and give you the confidence to take the next step in your treatment journey.
How long it takes to receive your NHS referral letter depends on how you arrange your appointment. If your GP gives you a reference number and password, you can book your appointment online using the NHS e-Referral Service straight away.
If your GP directly corresponds with the hospital, you may receive a letter from the hospital either confirming your appointment date or asking you to call to make an appointment. The time it takes to receive this letter varies from hospital to hospital.
Private GP referral letters are often emailed to patients on the same day as their appointment. You can get a private referral today by booking a doctor appointment online.
NHS GPs cannot charge patients for NHS or private referrals.
Some private GPs charge patients extra fees to write a referral letter. There are no extra fees for referrals by Medicspot doctors.
Referral letters do not have to be addressed to an individual consultant - they are addressed to a department or type of specialist. Once your NHS referral has been allocated you cannot change the consultant or team you see without a new referral.
If your appointment is through the NHS e-Referral service, you can usually choose your treatment provider and book your appointment online.
Read the NHS Choice Framework for details on when you can and cannot select your care provider.
The length of time a referral is valid depends on the type and severity of your condition. Doctor referral letters will include the date of referral and it is up to the discretion of the specialist whether they deem this valid or out of date.
You will need a GP referral to receive specialist treatment with the NHS.
Some specialists do not require a GP referral for private treatment. However, many private specialists require a GP referral, as do most private medical insurance policies. Ask your medical insurer and private specialist whether a referral letter is needed.
Your GP generally understands your need for a referral better than anyone because they know what can be dealt with in primary care and what needs specialist assessment and treatment. They don’t have to refer you to a specialist if they believe it’s not the right option. However, you’re entitled to ask for the reason why they refused your referral request.
If you’re unhappy about being refused a referral, you may ask to speak with another GP to get a second opinion. However, you may often get the same advice.
Upon receiving your NHS GP referral letter to hospital, you’ll be instructed to book an appointment or attend the specified appointment time. Once booked, you may have follow-up questions that need answering. This chapter will explain some of the frequently asked questions about referrals to hospital and private hospital appointments.
For non-emergency treatment, you are entitled to start treatment within 18 weeks of your NHS GP referral. If your GP suspects cancer then referrals are deemed urgent and will be fast-tracked to a maximum 2 week wait.
Private referral wait times can vary depending on the specialist you choose to see and the seriousness of your condition.
Your employer is not legally required to give you time off for a doctor or hospital appointment unless otherwise stated in your employment contract. They may say you need to take time off using holiday leave or unpaid leave in order to attend, but can also insist that you need to reschedule your appointment outside of work hours.
Exceptions to this include:
Read our sick note guide for more information on taking sick leave.
Private hospitals often require GP referrals because:
The cost of a private consultation with a specialist varies depending on where you live and the type of treatment you require.
Typically, private medical treatment costs are considerably higher from a leading specialist in Harley Street, London, compared to the rest of the UK. Similarly, consultants with a higher degree of specialty, like neurosurgeons or cardiac surgeons, will often be more expensive than commonly frequented specialists, like gynecologists or radiologists.
There are a number of websites you can use to find a private medical consultant, including Private Healthcare UK and Doctify. Both sites have useful filtering options to help you find and book appointments with the right specialist.
You may be wondering what type of specialist doctor you need for help with your condition. This chapter explains what each type of consultant does, the conditions they may treat, and where to find your nearest NHS specialist.
Audiologists are not trained as doctors but are professionals specialising in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss and balance disorders. Amongst other things, they're able to:
Audiologists can help with:
Bariatric surgery, also known as weight loss surgery, can be used to treat people who are very obese. It can result in substantial weight loss but is often only considered after the patient has tried other weight loss methods (like exercise, healthy diet or specially monitored diets prescribed by healthcare professionals). Different types of bariatric surgery include:
Cardiologists specialise in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases and defects of the cardiovascular system (like the heart and blood vessels). They're able to:
Amongst other things, cardiologists can help with:
Note: Paediatric cardiologists specialise in the management of heart disorders in children.
A cardiothoracic surgeon is a specialist who operates on thoracic organs (like the heart and lungs). They're able to:
Amongst other things, cardiothoracic surgeons can help with:
Complementary therapy can be used alongside mainstream medical treatments to help improve symptoms and quality of life. Complementary therapies include:
Complementary therapy on the NHS is limited and is usually not offered to patients. See your GP for advice first before visiting a complementary therapist.
Complementary therapy is not the same as alternative therapy. Alternative therapy is used instead of conventional medical treatments and often has no scientific evidence to show its effectiveness.
Dermatologists specialise in the diagnosis, treatment and management of skin disease and hair and nail complaints. They're able to:
Amongst other things, dermatologists can help with: *acne
Endocrinologists specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the endocrine system. The endocrine system is made up of endocrine glands that produce hormones (chemical messengers). These glands include the adrenal glands, ovaries, pancreas, parathyroid glands, pituitary gland, testicles, and thyroid gland. Endocrinologists are able to:
Amongst other things, endocrinologists can help with:
Gastroenterologists specialise in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of gastrointestinal (stomach and intestines) and hepatological (liver, gallbladder, biliary tree and pancreas) diseases. They're able to:
Amongst other things, gastroenterologists can help with:
Geriatric doctors (known as geriatricians or Care of the Elderly specialists) specialise in the management of health and illness in elderly people. They're able to:
The aging process affects the likelihood of elderly people developing different types of disease and their response to different treatments. Amongst other things, geriatric doctors can help with:
General surgery broadly covers a wide range of surgical procedures. Amongst other things, general surgery can cover:
Genitourinary medicine (GUM) is the branch of medicine concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Amongst other things, GUM physicians are able to:
Gynaecologists specialise in the health of the female reproductive system and the ability to reproduce. They're able to:
Amongst other things, gynaecologists can help with:
Midwives specialise in providing care and support to women and their families throughout their pregnancy, labour and post-labour. They're able to:
Amongst other things, midwives can help with:
Nephrology is the branch of medicine concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases. Nephrologists are able to:
Amongst other things, nephrologists can help with:
Neurologists specialise in the diagnosis, treatment and management of disorders affecting the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (the nerves and muscles responsible for movement and sensation). Amongst other things, neurologists are able to:
Get a referral letter to a neurologist for help with:
A neurosurgeon is a specialist who operates on the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system. They're able to:
Amongst other things, neurosurgeons can help with:
Oncology is the branch of medicine concerned with the diagnosis, treatment, and management of cancers. Oncologists are able to:
Amongst other things, oncologists can help with:
Ophthalmology is the branch of medicine concerned with eye conditions and the visual system. Ophthalmologists are able to:
Amongst other things, ophthalmologists can help with:
Oral and maxillofacial surgery (OMFS) is the surgical specialty concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the mouth, jaws, face, and neck. OMFS consultants are seen as the bridge between medicine and dentistry and able to:
Amongst other things, OMFS consultants can help with:
Trauma and orthopaedic surgery (T&O surgery) is the surgical specialty concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of musculoskeletal conditions. This can involve bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, nerves and muscles. Trauma and orthopaedic surgeons are able to:
Amongst other things, trauma and orthopaedic surgeons can help with:
An otorhinolaryngologist (also known as an ENT surgeons) specialises in the diagnosis and management of diseases of the head and neck (like the ear, nose and throat). They are able to examine patients and perform procedures or surgery on the head or neck.
Amongst other things, otorhinolaryngologists can help with:
Paediatrics is the branch of medicine concerned with the management of medical conditions in infants, children and young adults. Paediatricians are involved in all stages of the healthcare system, including primary, secondary and tertiary care.
Paediatric surgeons can also provide advice for parents. Amongst other things, they’re also able to perform a wide range of surgeries including:
Find your nearest NHS paediatric services and paediatric intensive care services.
Pain management is the branch of medicine concerned with easing patient suffering and improving quality of live. Pain management specialists may treat pain using medication, injections, therapy, exercise and TENS machines. Specialists tend to come from a variety of backgrounds including anaesthetic doctors and psychologists.
If you have difficulty managing your pain, your NHS GP may refer you to a specialist pain clinic. Private pain management specialists are also available. Amongst other things, pain clinics can help with pain from:
Physiotherapists are not doctors. They are professionals that specialise in the treatment of conditions, diseases and injuries affecting movement. They're able to:
Amongst other things, physiotherapists can help with:
Plastic surgery is the branch of medicine concerned with restoring or repairing parts of the body following injury or for cosmetic reasons. Plastic surgeons can perform reconstructive and cosmetic surgery.
Reconstructive surgery can include:
Aesthetic or cosmetic surgery can include:
Podiatrists are not doctors but are professionals that specialise in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of foot, ankle and lower leg disorders. They’re able to provide advice on how to prevent foot problems and how to take care of the feet and legs.
Amongst other things, podiatrists can help with:
Psychologists are not doctors but are professionals that specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of mental and physical health problems. They're able to:
Amongst other things, psychologists can help with:
Psychotherapists are not doctors but are professionals that specialise in the treatment of mental health problems using psychological methods (rather than medical). They're able to:
Amongst other things, psychotherapists can help with:
Find your nearest NHS psychological therapy services or learn more about different types of therapy.
Radiology is the branch of medicine that uses images to diagnose and treat health conditions. Radiologists are able to:
Radiologists use various techniques like:
Find your nearest NHS diagnostic imaging services. Alternatively, you can book a private GP referral for an MRI scan today.
Respiratory consultants specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of respiratory conditions. This can involve the windpipe, lungs and diaphragm. They're able to:
Amongst other things, respiratory consultants can help with:
Rheumatologists specialise in the diagnosis, management and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal disorders and immune system disorders. This can involve the muscles, soft tissues, bones and joints. They're able to:
Amongst other things, rheumatologists can help with:
Urologists specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of female urinary system and male genitourinary tract problems. This can involve the bladder, kidneys, male reproductive organs, prostate and ureters. Common procedures carried out by urological surgeons include:
Amongst other things, urologists can help with:
Vascular surgery is the surgical specialty concerned with the diagnosis and management of conditions affecting circulation. This can include arteries, lymphatic vessels and veins but excludes the brain and heart. Vascular surgeons are able to:
Amongst other things, vascular surgeons can help with:
Every week, adults aged 19 to 64 should undergo at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity in spells of 10 minutes or more. Regular exercise can help with weight loss and is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle.
GP referrals to the gym or a GP weight loss referral scheme may be offered depending on your health condition and local availability. This can allow you to join programs for free or at a reduced cost for a period of time.
An exercise referral scheme seeks to increase a person’s physical activity levels due to the wide range of positive health benefits that will ensue. The availability of exercise referral courses depends on where you live. If there’s not a GP referral to gym scheme in your area, follow this NHS get fit for free guide.
If you believe you meet both conditions, speak with your GP to see if there’s a GP gym referral scheme in your area.
GP weight loss referral schemes may be available for free or at a reduced cost depending on your health condition and where you live. This can include NHS weight loss support groups or commercial groups run by companies like Slimming World or Weight Watchers. It is usually only for a given period of time but may vary depending on your area.
If you haven’t lost sufficient enough weight after making changes to your diet and increasing exercise levels, your GP may prescribe Orlistat, a weight loss medicine. They will talk through your specific situation first to decide if this is an appropriate treatment for you.
We’re on a mission to make healthcare more accessible and convenient. We have over 100 private doctor clinics across the UK - simply find your nearest one and see a GP today.
Our private doctors can write GP referrals as needed. We’ll email referrals to you same day so you can focus on what matters most - your health. We can help with:
Where is your nearest clinic? And how can Medicspot help?
The Medicspot Clinical Station allows doctors to conduct a remote clinical examination and provide a safe, accurate diagnosis. Our doctors can then write GP referral letters as needed.
Find your nearest walk in centre.