Referral to Hospital

Most patient contacts in the NHS take place in GP surgeries – but sometimes family doctors refer them to a specialist in a particular field of medicine.

This may be for an
  • Investigation that cannot be done in primary care and/or diagnosis
  • Opinion a condition from a consultant and/or treatment
  • Advice and/or reassurance for the patient from a consultant or community based service.

Patients have the right to choose which hospital or clinic they are referred to – as long as it offers suitable treatment that meets NHS standards and costs. 

Once the referral has been sent by the practice patients are under the care of the hospital and no longer the GP for their condition and tests and investigations required by the specialists must be ordered and done by the service and they must send appointments to patients.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I discuss with the GP about my referral?

Your GP should have discussed with you and/or your carer why the referral is necessary and what the expected outcomes are. Please make the doctor aware of any specific needs. It is important that the details about your address and telephone number(s) are correct.

I have to be referred, what happens next?

It usually takes 7 to 14 working days for the referral letter or form to be prepared and signed by the doctor. Where a referral is urgent, these are done and sent within 24 hours in normal working hours.

Download our Patient Referral Information leaflet for Ivybridge here

Download our Patient Referral Information leaflet for Plympton here

When am I likely to get my appointment?

The services you have been referred to are obliged to see you and offer treatment within 18 weeks, unless you choose to wait longer or it is clinically appropriate that you wait longer and in the case of suspected cancer referrals, to see you within two weeks. Please contact the service you have been referred to as soon as you experience a delay.

What if I do not receive an appointment?

If you do not receive anything in three to four weeks then you can initially contact the hospital or community service you have been referred to.

Download our Patient Referral Information leaflet for Ivybridge here

Download our Patient Referral Information leaflet for Plympton here

What information about me is shared with the hospital?

The referral will include the reason, your name, address, date of birth, NHS number, telephone number, past medical history, current medications, allergies or sensitivities, details of investigations or tests that have been taken and the results and possible expected outcome(s).

Will the outcome of my consultation and all my test results from a specialist be available for me to discuss with my GP?

Often letters back from specialist services can take up to two weeks to reach your GP. Sometimes not all test results are sent back to your GP and it is worth asking our reception team whether results have been received before making an appointment. Please note that some specialist results are best interpreted by the specialist themselves and you should have an opportunity to discuss these with the specialist instead of your GP.

What else is useful to know?

The specialist service has to provide you with the following:

    • A prescription or enough medication for seven days or until the surgery has received the information
    • A Sick or Fit Note (Med3) you may require – remember, you under their care not the GP’s

Follow up appointments you may need to achieve the best possible outcome

I have been referred for a test, when can I expect the result?
    • Routine blood tests – up to three days (some specialist tests will take longer)
    • Urine and stool results – up to five days
    • Ultrasound scans – up to three days
    • All other tests – you will be told how long you should expect to wait for the results
What if the outcome is not what I expected?

If at any stage you are not sure as to what the next steps are in your care following a hospital/specialist or other professional consultation you should in the first instance discuss this with that health professional.

Patients should always contact the hospital directly to raise any queries or difficulties they encounter.

If you still do not feel the outcomes or experience of the hospital or community service matched your expectations. let us know or discuss again with the doctor who referred you. This is important as we would want to make sure that you are receiving the best care at all times and we may need to help you achieve this. You may not need an appointment for this, the doctor will respond to your message by calling you back.

NHS England and the British Medical Association have produced a useful leaflet explaining what happens when you are referred by your GP to see a specialist – including a checklist of issues to clarify with your consultant at the appointment.

Information about waiting times at Plymouth University Hospital is available on its website.

Devon Referral Support Service works on behalf of all Devon GPs and provides information about referrals, commissioning policies and support to patients who are referred to specialist care on their website:

Patient Referral Information Leaflet

Below are links to leaflets where you will find a helpful list of departments you are able to contact about your referral. It would be helpful to have your NHS number to hand when contacting any of the below departments.

Plympton Referral Information Leaflet

Ivybridge Referral Information Leaflet