No, it’s possible to seek private treatment from a consultant or specialist without being referred by your GP. However, the British Medical Association (BMA) believes that, in most cases, it’s best practice for patients to be referred for specialist treatment by their GP.
If you're unwell or have symptoms, see your GP first who will decide whether you need treatment. If you do, they will decide whether they can treat you or if you need to be referred to a specialist.
If your GP thinks you need specialist treatment and you want to pay for it privately, they can write a letter of referral to a private consultant or specialist explaining your condition and your medical history.
Your GP will only refer you to a specialist if they believe that specialist assessment or treatment is clinically necessary. If they don't think it is necessary, they do not have to refer you; privately or on the NHS.
Treatment without a GP referral
If your GP doesn’t think you need specialist treatment, it’s possible for you to seek treatment without a referral. However, the BMA believes that it’s usually best if patients are referred by their GP for specialist treatment.
What if I have private medical insurance?
Insurance companies usually require a letter of referral from a doctor. Some companies will accept GPs’ referrals to consultants, while others have their own lists of consultants.
If you have private medical or health insurance and you need specialist treatment, check your policy to find out:
- if your policy covers the treatment that you need
- whether your insurance company accepts consultant referrals from GPs or if it has its own list of consultants
- when you need to contact your insurance company to tell them that you’ve been referred for treatment
If your insurance company accepts GP referrals, arrange to see your GP as soon as possible.
If you make a claim for treatment under your private medical insurance, some sections of the claim form will probably need to be completed by a doctor. In most cases, the doctor who provides your treatment will be the best person to complete the form because they will have the information required.
You can also ask a GP or a NHS hospital doctor if they will complete the form. However, they do not have to do this and if they do complete the form, they’re entitled to charge for this service.