You have been referred for onward care – what you need to know.

Why have I been referred?

Your GP will discuss with you about why a referral is being recommended. It is usually because your GP wants a specialist’s help in deciding on the best way to treat your condition. This might involve referring you for tests or investigations that cannot be carried out in a GP surgery.

How will I hear about where and when the appointment is?

GP practices and hospitals use different ways of arranging appointments:

  • Following your consultation in the surgery, your GP practice will send you a reference number and a password via text message which you can use to book, change or cancel your appointment online or by phone.
  • You may receive a letter from the hospital confirming your appointment. You need to reply as soon as possible and tell the hospital if you can attend on the date offered.
  • Alternatively, sometimes patients receive a letter asking them to telephone the hospital to make an appointment with a specialist.

Wait times

Wait times for appointments to see a Specialist Consultant are beyond the control of Primary Care and the practice. You can find out the average wait times of different hospital departments at

What happens if I need a test or procedure?

Normally, if the specialist thinks you need any test, investigation or surgical procedure, the specialist is responsible for:

  • arranging the test, investigation, or procedure, explaining how and when you will receive a date and what to do if the date is not suitable for you; and
  • giving you the results and explaining what they mean (this may be done in a separate appointment with the specialist or by letter).

What happens if I need new medication?

The specialist might suggest prescribing new medicines for you or might want to make changes to the medicines that you are already taking. The specialist is responsible for:

  • giving you the first prescription for any new medicine that you need to start taking straightaway; and
  • giving you enough medicine to last at least the first seven days, unless you need to take the medicine for a shorter time. After this, you will need to contact your GP surgery if another prescription is required.

It is important that you understand whether you need to start any new medicines, or whether the specialist has changed the medicines you already take, so ask the specialist if you are not sure. In some cases, your GP will not be able to prescribe certain medicines and you will need to continue to receive these from the hospital. You will be told about this at your appointment.

When seeing a specialist: Your checklist

Questions to ask
If I need to start taking a new medicine straightaway, has the hospital provided me with a supply to last at least seven days (or less, if I need to take the medicine for a shorter period)?
Do I understand what the medication is for, how to take it and any side effects? If appropriate, has a Patient Information Leaflet (PIL) been supplied?
Do I have the contact details for the specialist’s office if I have a question?
If I need a Fit Note, has the hospital provided me with one, and does it cover the length of time the specialist expects me to be off work?
Do I need a hospital follow up appointment and if so, do I know how this is organised?
If appropriate, do I have the names and contact details of organisations who can give me more information or support if I need it?

If you are unsure about any of the questions in the checklist, please make sure you discuss them with a member of staff before you leave hospital.