In the first instance, everyone who is cared for by the NHS in England has formal rights to make choices about the service that they receive. These include the right to choose a GP surgery, to state which GP you’d like to see, to choose which hospital you’re treated at, and to receive information to support your choices.
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 about the NHS: your right to choice.
Do you need a second opinion?
Before requesting a second opinion, it’s worth asking your GP or consultant to go over 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 about the NHS: 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.