If the NHS doesn't fund the medical treatment you need in your area, or you are unhappy about where you are going to be treated on the NHS, you have the legal right to go elsewhere and still be treated by the NHS, even if it's outside your local NHS Trust area. 

Not many people know this, but I discovered that I could ask to be referred for treatment in another area, and what was more, I could be taken there by hospital transport - even though it was a seven-hour round journey. 

Right to choose

Recently I had an emergency admission to my local mega-sized Trust hospital.  It was not a good experience and resulted in several problems. I phoned the Department of Health and Social Care to ask what are patients’ current rights to be treated elsewhere.  They were very helpful, and sent me this link.

Basically, it says: “The Government is committed to giving patients greater choice and control over how they receive their healthcare.”

This commitment is reflected in the NHS Constitution for England, which makes it clear that, “you have the right to make choices about the services commissioned by NHS bodies and to information to support these choices”. It also pledges to “inform you about the healthcare services available to you, locally and nationally” and to “offer you easily accessible, reliable and relevant information in a form you can understand, and support to use it […] to enable you to participate fully in your own healthcare decisions and to support you in making choices”.

Patient partnership

I learnt about choice when I needed a specific infusion to help treat osteoporosis. I was receiving this in one NHS Trust area. Then I moved to another area and was told I couldn't get this infusion as it wasn't funded there.

Before I blew my top, I asked my GP if she could refer me back to my previous hospital for an infusion; to my delight, she said she was happy to do this. 

It was so easy - no queries, no quibbles, just a simple referral - and a month later, there I was in the back of a hospital car, being taken back to my 'old' hospital to be given this precious infusion.

If you need a certain type of treatment or operation, and it's not available for you in your area, but is available elsewhere then ask your GP to refer you. 

Mine was happy to refer me, but if yours is reluctant, remember you have the right to ask for this.  It's known as Patient Choice, but not many know that  NHS rules allow you to be treated outside your immediate area. 

If possible, work in partnership with your doctors/nurses to choose where you want to be treated. I found it remarkably easy to exercise my choice (three times now).  There must be barriers to exercising choice, but I’ve been lucky and didn't come across any.

If you are looking for inspiration Verite writes a blog with lots of information about getting the right referral After Cancers.  

Verite Reily Collins

Join us during Patient Partnership Week to learn more about the benefits of patients and professionals working together. Visit the event page for details about the free webinars.