ClinicSpeak: second opinions in the NHS

You don’t have a legal right to a second opinion under the NHS. #ClinicSpeak #MSBlog #MSResearch

“Somebody asked my advice at the Imperial Research Day yesterday about how to get a second opinion when their GP refuses. I told you that all NHS patients had a right to second opinion as enshrined in the NHS patient Charter. Apologies, I gave you incorrect information. The NHS Patient Charter has now been replaced by the NHS Constitution (March 2013), which does not give you a legal right to second opinion. However, there are other ways to ask for a second opinion. I have copied the following section from NHS Choices about the process. I hope this information is helpful to you. If this fails you can always raise the issue you with your local Member of Parliament (MP); GPs tend react positively when MPs’ intervene on behalf of their constituents.”

How do I get a second opinion?

You can ask your GP or another healthcare professional for a second or further opinion (an opinion about your health condition from a different doctor).

Although you do not have a legal right to a second opinion, a healthcare professional will rarely refuse to refer you for one.

For more information, see your right to choice in the NHS.

Do you need a second opinion?

Before asking for a second opinion, it’s worth asking your GP or consultant to go over your diagnosis and explain anything you don’t understand.

If you’re unhappy with your diagnosis or would like to consider a different course of treatment, discuss this with them. Your GP or consultant will be happy to explain things and, in many cases, there may be no need for a second opinion.
Can anyone else ask for a second opinion?

Your family or carer can also ask for a second opinion on your behalf, but only with your consent. If someone requests a second opinion on your behalf, they should have all the information about your illness or condition, and check they understand it thoroughly.

Sometimes a GP or consultant may ask a colleague to provide a second opinion. For example, doctors may ask their colleagues about a complicated case.
Second opinion from a different GP

If you would like a second opinion after receiving advice from your GP, you can ask them to refer you to another GP.

Alternatively, you may consider asking to see a different GP at your surgery, if you’re registered at a surgery with more than one GP, or changing to a different GP surgery. For more information, see choosing a GP.

Second opinion from a different consultant

If you would like a second opinion after seeing a consultant (a senior medical doctor who specialises in a particular field of medicine), you need to go back to your GP and ask them to refer you again. If your GP agrees to refer you to a new consultant, the consultant will be told that this is your second opinion. They will also be sent any relevant test results or X-rays previously carried out.

This does not mean that the new consultant will automatically take over your care. If you want to be treated by the new consultant, this will need to be arranged with the doctors and hospital.
How long will I have to wait for a second opinion?

People who ask for a second opinion have already seen a doctor, so they may have to wait. A second opinion with a different consultant will also usually be at a different hospital, which may involve some travelling.

Getting a second opinion may therefore delay any treatment that you need. If you have a serious medical condition, you should take this into account when deciding to ask for a second opinion. Ask your doctor whether a delay in starting treatment could be harmful.

Read the answers to more questions about NHS services and treatments.

About the author

Prof G

Professor of Neurology, Barts & The London. MS & Preventive Neurology thinker, blogger, runner, vegetable gardener, husband, father, cook and wine & food lover.


  • It's Interesting to read the hoops someone on the NHS has to go through for the 2nd opinion since we are able to do that rather easily here in the US if we have private insurance. My big concern about your system is the question if a person gets an objective look if the 2nd doctor is given all of the notes from the first doctor. It seems there would be a natural bias on the part of the 2nd doctor to be influenced by the 1st doctor's findings rather than getting to start fresh with a new doctor. Thanks for sharing this insight.

  • I've just been to my GP and asked to see a new consultant, because I wasn't happy. I've now got a new appointment to see a specialist at another hospital. I do not have to pay and I didn't need private health insurance. I sat next to a woman from the USA last Saturday who was telling her child a story. It went "once upon a time there was a Health service and it was crap. It was called the NHS" It was a Saturday morning walk in clinic where no appointment was necessary and nobody paid a penny. The patients waiting reminded her of this and she left.

  • Based on this the NHS doesn't seem to be flexible. Surely the healthcare you get must not be constrained by the opinion of one GP or neurologist? No wonder the politicians want to privatise the NHS; I am sure having choice and voting with your feet will improve standards and get the NHS off the bottom of the league tables.

    • When I was diagnosed many years ago my father wanted to take me to Harley Street for a second opinion. I refused I couldn't bear to go through all the tests again. I stayed with the NHS, I thought Professor Ian Macdonald was a very nice man.

  • Oh wow, not all politicians want to privatise the NHS. I'm not convinced that is the answer. And I for one would fight this on the barricades:). Taking the long view of history, it most definitely isn't the solution.. But it needs a shakeup, for sure.

    • Not all politicians want to privatise the NHS is right I am sure….however why are they being so silent as this process creeps in under the radar…are they following party policy and keeping their mouths shut…as I have been led to believe from insiders in Parliment

    • Mousedoctor, not all of us are gullible. I question why any private provider of healthcare would take on work unless it was profitable. Therefore, we are paying twice. We are paying the Treasury and then the money is going towards companies that are making a profit. Senseless. What I would like is for MPs to state their conflicts of interest, just as you do in this blog. They probably do, but it isn't easy to access. It would be dangerous to believe what is said prior to an election. I was inundated from the Torys last time saying how much they love the NHS. Did I believe it? Of course not. Maybe I should move to somewhere that isn't a marginal constituency.

    • You are correct who would tae on something if it were not profitable I think we found about 75 MPs on the take from private health care companies.

By Prof G



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