Patient choice at the point of referral

When a patient is referred for a physical or mental health condition, in most routine (non-urgent) cases they can choose which provider they would like to be referred to based on their personal preference.

It is important patients are empowered to make informed decisions about their NHS care and treatment.

At the point of referral, which is usually via a GP, patients will be asked what matters to them most when deciding on where to go for their treatment. This could be going to the provider with the shortest waiting time, being close to family or friends to aid with their recovery or choosing the one which has been rated highly by the healthcare regulator.  

The patient will be given a minimum of five clinically appropriate options to consider. They can make their choice at the initial appointment or they may wish to take some time to consider their options before choosing online, using the link issued, or by calling the referral helpline (0345 608 8888).

Professionals can find a link to the ICB Patient Choice Policy here.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Who isn’t eligible for patient choice?

A: You do not have a legal right to choose if:

  • You need urgent or emergency treatment.
  • You are serving in the armed forces.
  • You are accessing maternity services.
  • You are detained under the mental health act.
  • You are detained or on temporary releases from prison, an immigration removal centre or a secure children’s home.
  • You are referred to a high-security psychiatric services or drug and alcohol misuse services provided by local authorities.

Q: Where can I get help to choose a provider for my care?

A: Talk to your GP or referring clinician (optometrist, dentist) about the choices available for you and your particular condition.

You might also want to look at waiting time information on the NHS App or the My Planned Care app. Quality information about providers can be also be found on the CQC website.

Q: After the first outpatient appointment is a patient transferred back to their local NHS trust?

A: No, the patient will be under the care of the chosen provider throughout their pathway until they are discharged.

Q: If a patient chooses a provider outside of their local area will they be entitled to travel or accommodation expenses?

A: Some patients may be eligible for expenses via the NHS Travel Reimbursement Scheme.

Q: Is patient choice a legal right?

A: Yes, patient choice was introduced into the NHS constitution in 2012.


Download a patient leaflet and poster about how patient choice works.