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Specialist and two-week wait referrals 

A referral is when a specialist outside your GP practice will be the best person to help you with your health. 

Who organises referrals? 

Referrals to specialist services will need to be sent by your GP to the relevant department, either in a hospital or elsewhere. 

Examples would be dermatology, gastroenterology or gynaecology. 

GP practices need to arrange referrals because they hold all of your medical records, which, along with the GP’s letter explaining why they have referred you, give the specialists all the information they need to help you. 

Can I ask to be referred? 

Yes, you have the right to ask to be referred to a particular service – you would need to make an appointment to see your Doctor and explain why you would like to be referred.  

Please keep in mind that requesting a referral does not mean that it will necessarily happen – GPs will only refer people to specialist services when it is clinically appropriate. 

If your Doctor thinks this isn’t the case, there may be other alternatives that they would like to try first instead of specialist care. 

Booking your specialist appointment 

When your specialist has received your referral, you’ll be communicated with about the next steps. 

In most cases, you can choose which hospital you want to be seen at and which consultant you wish to see. You can only select from hospitals and consultants that offer the service the GP is referring you for. 

You can read more about hospital choice and consultant choice on the NHS website. 

Depending on the specialist service and the hospital, there can be different ways to book an appointment. 

  • You may be able to book your appointment through the practice when you are here. 
  • The GP may give you an appointment request letter with details to book it yourself online or over the phone. 
  • The hospital may write to you with a proposed time and date, which you can confirm with them directly. 

How long does a referral take? 

This depends on the demand and availability of each particular specialist service in your area. 

If you strongly prefer where you are seen and by whom, this might impact how quickly you can be seen. 

Please be aware that while the NHS is working hard to address the impact of the pandemic on waiting lists, services may not yet be running as they were pre-covid. 

Are some referrals prioritised?    

Yes. Urgent referrals – also called ‘two-week wait’ referrals – are when your GP thinks you need to be seen by a specialist as soon as possible. Typically this will be if your GP thinks you may have a condition that, if confirmed, will react best to early treatment. 

Whilst this includes the possibility of cancer, most people referred in this way do not have cancer. 

Many common conditions may cause the signs and symptoms, but the hospital must know about your GP’s concerns to investigate your condition thoroughly. 

It is important to remember that even though you are being referred urgently, this DOES NOT necessarily mean that you have cancer. 

Visit the Northern Cancer Alliance for more about fast-track referrals. 

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