You’re entitled to ask for a referral for specialist treatment on the NHS. However, whether you’ll get the referral depends on what your GP feels is clinically necessary in your case. If you wish to be referred to a specialist in a particular field, such as a surgeon or a gynaecologist (a specialist in the female reproductive system), you should see the GP you’re registered with. This is because all your medical records are held by the surgery. Your GP also generally understands your health history and treatments better than anyone else and will base any decision for a specialist referral on this knowledge.
If you ask your GP to refer you to a specialist, they’ll probably suggest that you first try various tests or treatment options to see whether your condition improves. Generally, you cannot self-refer to a specialist within the NHS, except when accessing sexual health clinics or A&E treatment.
A specialist will only see you with a letter of referral from your GP. The letter will give the specialist essential background information, such as your medical history, and it’ll also contain details that the specialist needs to pay particular attention to.
Examples of referrals could include:
- Scans or tests for a diagnosis of a condition or health issue
- Wellbeing services, like smoking cessation or diabetes management
- Minor surgery.
If you want to see a private specialist, you’re still advised to get a letter of referral from your GP. Whether you see a private specialist, with or without a GP referral, or are referred to an NHS specialist, your GP is not obliged to accept the specialist’s recommendations.