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Getting a second opinion

You might want to see another GP or specialist to get a second opinion about your diagnosis or treatment.

What is a second opinion?

A second opinion means seeing another GP or specialist doctor. They will give their view on your diagnosis or treatment. This usually means going to a different hospital or GP surgery.

You don't have a legal right to a second opinion. But doctors rarely refuse to arrange one for you.

Why people get a second opinion

You might want to see another doctor for one or more of the following reasons:

  • to confirm your diagnosis
  • to make sure you are having the best treatment
  • to support what you have already been told about your condition and treatment
  • because you don’t feel that you can talk to your current doctor

Advantages

The benefits of seeing another doctor may include: 

  • feeling reassured that different doctors agree on your diagnosis and treatment
  • having different treatments to choose from when the second doctor offers you a different treatment

Disadvantages

Seeing a different doctor is not always possible, and may sometimes have disadvantages. These include:

  • a possible delay in starting treatment
  • travelling to another hospital could be difficult or even impossible
  • hearing your diagnosis again, which may be distressing

It can take some time to arrange a second opinion. You won't be a priority because you have already seen a doctor or specialist. It's important to talk to your doctor about how long any delay is likely to be. Also, discuss whether a delay in starting treatment would be harmful.

If possible, try not to cancel any tests or treatments booked by your original doctor. This might reduce the delay if you choose to continue to see the first doctor.    

Your worries or fears

You might worry about offending or upsetting your doctor by asking to see someone else. This is unlikely to happen. Doctors themselves often ask their colleagues about complex and unusual cases.

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Things to think about

Before you ask for another opinion, think about exactly why you want one. This can avoid wasting time and effort. And if you see another doctor privately, also money. 

If you haven't fully understood what your doctor told you

If you didn't take it all in the first time around, it might help to ask your original doctor to go over things with you again. Don't feel embarrassed about not understanding or needing the information to be repeated. Doctors know how difficult it is to take in complicated medical information. They know that it might be more difficult if you are feeling shocked and upset.

After your diagnosis, you might have read up on your condition and now have questions or concerns. You might need to talk this through with your specialist. This will give you the chance to ask any questions that have come up since your first appointment.

You aren't satisfied with the suggested treatment

You might hear about other possible treatments from other people with cancer. This might be at the hospital or a local support group. There is also often information about new treatments in the news. These treatments often sound better than other treatments. You might wonder why your doctor hasn't offered you that treatment.

This might make you feel less confident about the treatment you are going to have. Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse if you feel like this. You can ask them why you have a particular treatment and whether there are any other options for you. They can explain to you why a specific treatment is best for you. After you have spoken to them and if you still feel unsure, ask your doctor to refer you for a second opinion.

You find it hard to talk to your doctor

It can be difficult if you don't feel comfortable talking to your doctor. You need to have confidence in them and feel able to voice any concerns you have. This can help build trust and confidence in your relationship.

If you don't feel like this, try talking to another doctor in the consultant's team. This might be someone like the registrar. Or, if there is a specialist nurse in the team, you may find it helps to talk to them. They may be able to sort out any misunderstandings. If necessary, they might offer to speak to the doctor about your concerns. It can be useful to talk to your doctor and nurse together.

How to get a second opinion

Talk to your specialist doctor or GP

Talk to your specialist doctor or GP if you decide to see another doctor. They can refer you to an NHS doctor who specialises in treating your condition. Or you could pay for a second opinion from a private doctor.

Your relatives can also ask for a second opinion, but you need to give consent for them to do this. Having a second opinion doesn't mean that the second doctor will take over your care. If you decide you want the new doctor to treat you, they have to agree. The doctors or hospitals have to arrange it between them.

If you want to see a different GP and are in a group GP practice, you can ask for an appointment with one of the other doctors. You can also ask your GP to refer you to a different doctor. Some people may consider changing their GP or GP practice. This is only possible if another local GP practice can take you on.

What you can expect

Your current doctor or specialist should send the new doctor information, such as:

  • previous treatments you have had
  • relevant test results
  • medicines or treatments you are having

Who can help if you are having problems

Contact the patient advice and liaison service (PALS) with any issues. They can offer advice. Your local citizen advice service (CAB) might also be able to help.

Before your appointment

It might help to prepare for a second opinion by:

  • thinking about what you want to get out of the appointment
  • making a note of your symptoms and any treatment you've already had
  • writing down questions you want to ask
  • asking someone to go with you for moral support and to help you take in the information the doctor gives you
  • taking all the relevant medical information you might have about your condition

Information and help