If you need to go to hospital to see a specialist, you have the right to choose which hospital you're referred to by your GP. This legal right, which was introduced in April 2009, lets you choose from any hospital offering a suitable treatment that meets NHS standards and costs.
You can choose a hospital according to what matters most to you, whether it's location, waiting times, reputation, clinical performance, visiting policies, parking facilities or patients’ comments.
Why is choosing the hospital in which I am first seen important?
The hospital at which you choose to see a specialist will probably also be the one where you receive treatment, should you need it. Therefore, when you choose where to see a specialist, always assume that treatment will be necessary, even if this seems unlikely or uncertain when your GP first refers you.
If you're not happy with your chosen hospital after seeing a specialist, tell your GP. They can make you an appointment at another hospital. However, this may delay any treatment you need, so think carefully before deciding to go to another hospital.
Is hospital choice offered in every case?
A choice of hospital is available for most patients and in most circumstances. Exceptions include emergency and urgent services, cancer, maternity and mental health services. If you need to be seen urgently by a specialist (for example, if you have severe chest pain), your GP will send you where you'll be seen most quickly.
Go to the Rights and pledges section for Your rights to choice in the NHS.
Why should I choose which hospital to go to?
There are many reasons why you might prefer one hospital to another. Location, waiting times, clinical results and parking facilities are just some of the things that patients consider when choosing a hospital. Evidence shows that if you choose a hospital in which you feel comfortable and confident, you're likely to improve both the result of your treatment and your experience while you're in hospital.
What if I don’t want to choose?
You don't have to make the decision yourself. If you prefer, your GP can choose for you.
The best decisions are likely to be made jointly between you and your GP. Take time to discuss the full range of options with your GP.
Do I have to choose straight away?
If your GP wants to refer you to a specialist, you can take away information about hospitals and decide later. In most circumstances, this is the most sensible option.
For advice on how to choose the best hospital for you, go to Picking the right hospital.
Are there any costs involved in choosing hospitals?
There are no costs involved if you're an NHS patient. All the hospitals that you can choose from provide treatments to NHS patients free of charge, including the independent (private) ones.
If the hospital I choose is a long way away, can I get help with travel costs?
If your GP or the person who has referred you decides that you have a medical need for transport, patient transport services should be provided. You may be entitled to help with your travel costs through the Healthcare Travel Cost Scheme (HTCS) if you're under the care of a consultant and receive either Income Support, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance or Pension Credit Guarantee Credit, or if you're named on an NHS tax exemption certificate or qualify under the NHS low-income scheme.
For information on travel subsidies and policies in the NHS, go to the sections on Help with health costs and The NHS in England.
Which hospital should I choose?
The hospitals you can choose from will depend on the type of specialist you need to see. The choice you make may be based on a wide range of factors, such as location, waiting times, reputation, clinical performance, cleanliness, travel, parking facilities and visiting policies. You can choose your hospital according to what's most important to you.
For detailed advice on researching hospitals and how to choose the best hospital for you, go to Picking the right hospital.