Getting a second opinion

If you feel dissatisfied with the care or treatment you are receiving for yourself, your child or someone you care for then you may wish to seek a second opinion. This section answers questions you may have about how to go about this in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. All of the Home Nations basically follow the same principles but where there are differences we have highlighted them at the bottom of the page.

Where you stand with regard to getting 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.

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.  Remember your GP, consultant or healthcare professional, should check your understanding, explain any medical terms and provide an opportunity for you to ask questions. Any information should be summarised, written down and supported by published information if available. Any fears or concerns you have should be listened to. You should receive emotional support for yourself and your family, if appropriate.

It is also worth noting that your dissatisfaction with the first opinion may be down to a communication failure between you and your GP, consultant or healthcare professional. Asking them to explain things to you again may easily rectify this – it’s often helpful to make a list of questions before you see them, or to ask someone else to accompany you who can ask questions on your behalf. If you can do this then there may be no need to obtain a second opinion.  Have a look at our top tips on communicating with doctors.

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.  In many centres patients automatically receive the benefit of having their case discussed and considered by more than one person through multidisciplinary teams comprising of several doctors and nurses.

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.

If you are not happy with your GP practice

If you're not happy with the service at your existing GP surgery, you can change to another practice in the area, in most cases. When you have selected a practice that meets your needs, you will usually need to fill out and sign a registration form  and hand it to the practice. Be prepared to take along details of your previous doctor, your address and the details on your medical card, if you have one.

If you do decide to change your GP practice the Royal College of General Practitioners has produced a booklet to help you choose - and get the most from - a GP practice. It was produced before the 2013 NHS reorganisation in England and so refers to some organisations and procedures that no longer exist. But it still contains a great deal of helpful information about GP practices themselves.

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 and associated costs for the individual.

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.

In Northern Ireland

In complex cases your consultant may seek a second opinion from expert centres outside Northern Ireland. Under these circumstances your consultant will apply for approval for the second opinion from the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Board. Travel and subsistence costs are normally reimbursed in this setting. A patient led second opinion or where there is disagreement may require self funding of travel costs.

In Wales

All unusual or difficult cases are routinely discussed by the 3 consultants in the team. Opinions from colleagues around the UK are sought by telephone if considered necessary. Exceptionally, patients will be formally referred outside Wales to see a consultant in person for a further opinion if required.

In Scotland

In complex cases your consultant may seek a second opinion, usually from an expert specialist in another centre in Scotland or in England. Under these circumstances your consultant will apply for approval for the second opinion from your local Health Board. Travel and subsistence costs are normally reimbursed in this setting. A patient led second opinion or where there is disagreement may require self funding of travel costs.

The following websites give you information on how to get a second opinion within:
·      NHS England  www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/910.aspx?CategoryID=68
·      NHS Scotland www.nhsinform.co.uk/common-health-questions/h/how-do-i-get-a-second-opinion
·      Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland  - unfortunately we were unable to find a patient friendly link.
·      NHS Wales  www.nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk/encyclopaedia/s/article/secondopinion/

Posted October 2014