Patient choice


Your right to patient choice

Your right to make an informed choice about GP and other services that are provided or paid for by the NHS is part of the NHS Constitution.

The NHS Constitution is also available in EasyRead format. (PDF, 3.8 MB, 51 pages)

The NHS Choice Framework sets out patients’ rights to choice in healthcare, where to find information to help choose and how to complain if choice is not offered.


What choice means to patients

Patient choice gives you the right to choose a GP practice to register with in your area. Follow the links below for a list of GP practices in different areas:

If your GP or another healthcare professional needs to refer you for more specialist physical or mental health care, they should give you the opportunity to choose a preferred hospital or other consultant-led service that can provide your NHS care.

Patient choice if you're waiting longer than you should for planned care 

You can contact the hospital currently in charge of your care and exercise your choice to be referred to a different hospital if you:

  • Have to wait more than 18 weeks before starting non-urgent treatment for a physical or mental health condition.

  • Have to wait two weeks before seeing a specialist for suspected cancer.

You also have a choice about other services including maternity, end of life care and some community services.

Requesting to move provider if you have been waiting over 40 weeks

If you have been waiting for an operation or procedure for over 40 weeks (and do not have an appointment date in the next eight weeks), the hospital in charge of your care may contact you to ask if you want to request to move to another hospital. This could be another NHS hospital or an independent hospital (that would see you as an NHS patient), which may be able to see you sooner.

We would only be able to move your care if the local NHS can identify another hospital that has the capacity and can provide a shorter waiting time for the operation you need.

If your care is moved to another hospital, this would include everything including your outpatient appointments, pre-operative assessments or checks, your operation, and any follow-up appointments until you are fully discharged.

There are some patients who can’t be considered for a move to another hospital. This particularly applies to patients with a complex medical condition or who need very specialist care that needs to be provided in a particular hospital.

This alternative choice of hospital for people waiting over 40 weeks is currently only for patients aged 18 and over.

If you think that you may be eligible to make an alternative choice, you must wait for the hospital in charge of your care to get in contact with you. Please do not contact your hospital or your GP practice directly.

When the hospital contacts you, they will give you more information about the process and will be able to answer your questions to help you consider your options.

As with any patient choice you will need to consider various factors such as location (including travel times to all appointments) and other factors such as quality of care as outlined below. 

Making your choice as a patient

Your choice of GP, hospital or other NHS service should be based on what matters most to you. This includes things like location (including travel times and parking facilities), waiting times, reputation, quality of care, and patient feedback.

Your GP or other health professional should outline your choices of hospital or other provider and help you to choose the best option for you. As well as talking to your GP you can also look at other information such as the My Planned Care website which has information about waiting times as well as other health advice for people waiting for an operation.

The NHS Choice Framework website also has information on how to make informed decisions. You can find a full list of available services on the NHS services directory

Once you have chosen your provider you can book your first hospital or clinic appointment with a specialist in the following ways:

  • using the NHS e-Referral Service (you will need a booking reference number and password)
  • using the NHS App
  • by telephoning the referral helpline 0345 608 8888
  • ask your GP surgery to do this for you at the time of referral.

Patients who aren't offered choice 

There are times when you won’t be offered choice. These include:

  • If you are using or need the help of urgent, emergency or crisis services or need urgent treatment such as cancer services and need to be seen very quickly.

  • If the local NHS has commissioned a specialist community health service to support patients with a specific condition (such as a community musculoskeletal service), your GP will refer you to that service and will not generally offer you a choice to go to another provider.

  • If you a prisoner, or other detainee, or if you are held in hospital under the Mental Health Act, or if you are a serving member of the armed forces.

The NHS Choice Framework website has more information on when choice doesn’t apply.

If you think you haven't had fair choice

If you feel that you have not been offered a choice when you should have been, speak to your GP or consultant. If you feel that you have not been provided with your preferred choice, you can ask for the matter to be investigated by Hertfordshire and West Essex Integrated Care Board. Please contact our patient experience team.