Patient choice

Hospital choices

Most patients now have the right to choose which hospital provider they are referred to by their GP. This legal right, which was introduced in April 2009, lets patients choose from any hospital provider in England offering a suitable treatment that meets NHS standards and costs.

Patients can choose which hospital they are seen in according to what matters most to them, whether it’s location, waiting times, reputation, clinical performance, visiting policies, parking facilities or other patients’ comments.

A choice of hospital is available for most patients and in most circumstances. Exceptions include emergency and urgent services, cancer, maternity and mental health services. If you need to be seen urgently by a specialist (for example, if you have severe chest pain), your GP will send you where you’ll be seen most quickly.

Treatment choices

For some medical complaints a doctor will recommend a single straightforward treatment. A course of antibiotics for an inner-ear infection, for example.

But for many conditions there is no single treatment. Instead, you and your doctor will have a range of options to choose from. In this case, what’s best for you will be influenced by a number of factors, some medical, others more personal.

For example, you may need to consider the benefits of one or more drugs against their side effects, or choose between having an operation that has serious risks and living with the discomfort of the condition.

When faced with complicated and often frightening health issues, it can be difficult to remember that we have a right to be involved in decisions about our treatment and care. NHS doctors have a duty to inform us about the options available and will advise us what they think is best. But it’s you, the patient, who must decide whether a treatment is right for you.

Making the most of treatment choices requires careful thought and research. You’re more likely to make the right decision if you learn more about the options available to you and the experiences of others.

The NHS Choices website helps patients in this area by providing tools and information. The resources include:

  • Health A-Z. Use the treatment pages of the Health A-Z to see the common treatment options for particular conditions and find links to specialist charities and patient groups in each area.
  • Map of Medicine. Available through the Health A-Z topic pages or the main home page, the map of medicine shows the ideal treatment pathway for each condition as agreed by medical experts and enables you to check your options.
  • Medicine Guides. A list of licensed medicines, including side effects. You can search by medicine name via the medicines hub or see a condition-specific list of medicines through the Health A-Z topic pages.
  • Scorecard. Use this tool to compare hospitals according to a range of performance measures and facilities. You can view your results by treatment type.
  • Choose and Book. The online service that allows you to book your own hospital appointments.