Health and social care rights

Explains your rights to social care, and how this differs from healthcare. Includes information on eligibility, needs assessments, financial assessments, and how local authorities may meet your needs. Applies to England and Wales.

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Healthcare rights and choices

What are my healthcare treatment rights?

You have certain rights about the healthcare treatment you receive:

  • Being free from discrimination. People or organisations providing healthcare are not allowed to discriminate against you based on protected characteristics like your age, disability, gender, race or religion. To find out more, see our pages on disability discrimination.
  • Getting information about your treatment. When you're using NHS services, the healthcare professionals and staff must explain things to you in a way that you can understand. You have a right to information about your treatment and local health services.
  • Seeing your medical records. You have a right to see your medical records. The only exception is where showing them to you would be likely to cause serious mental or physical harm to you or another person. To find out more, see our pages on personal information.
  • Giving consent before receiving treatment. You have to give your consent (to say 'yes') before any healthcare professional can examine or treat you. They should explain what the treatment is and any risks associated with it. You also have the right to refuse treatment (to say 'no'). However, there are certain situations in which you can be treated without your consent, including:
    • Certain situations when you have been detained under the Mental Health Act (see our legal pages on agreeing to treatment).
    • When your life is in danger, you are unconscious and you can’t explain what you want.
    • When you don’t have the capacity to make a decision about your treatment and the medical professionals believe that treatment is in your best interests (see our legal pages on agreeing to treatment).

If you feel that your healthcare rights haven't been respected, then you can make a complaint about this. See our legal pages on complaining about health and social care for more information.

What choices can I make about my primary care?

Primary care services are your first point of contact in the healthcare system (such as your GP or pharmacist). You have the right to make certain choices about the primary care you receive.

  • Choosing your GP practice, doctor or nurse. You have the right to choose which GP practice you register with, and which doctor or nurse to see at that practice.

Exception – the practice doesn't have to accept you if its register is full, or if it doesn't accept patients who live outside of its practice boundary.

  • Accessing healthcare without proof of identity or address. People who are homeless, vulnerably housed or ‘of no fixed abode’, asylum seekers, refugees and overseas visitors, whether lawfully in the UK or not, can all register with a GP practice. You don't need to prove identity, address, immigration status or an NHS number to register as a patient, and GPs don't have any contractual requirement to request this. Here's some NHS guidance on how to register with a GP if you are homeless.
  • Primary mental health assessment (Wales). In Wales, you must be offered a primary mental health assessment if a GP or general practice worker believes that you'd benefit from it. This is a detailed mental health assessment to find out whether local primary mental health treatment or any other local service might improve your mental health or prevent it from getting worse. You shouldn't have to wait more than 28 days for an assessment.

    After the assessment, you should be offered short-term help if this is appropriate. This might be counsellingcognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), solution-focussed therapy, family work, online support, stress management, bibliotherapy (therapy involving books) or education. It could be offered individually or through group work. If it seems like a referral to secondary services would be useful, then this should be made for you.

What choices can I make about my secondary care?

Secondary care services are those which you generally need a referral from a GP to use (such as hospitals or community mental health teams (CMHTs)). You have the right to make certain choices about the secondary care you receive.

  • Choosing your consultant or specialist. You have the right to choose where to go for your first appointment as an outpatient if you need to be referred to a consultant or other specialist. You may choose any organisation that provides clinically appropriate care and which clinical team will be in charge of your treatment.

Exceptions – you don’t have the right to choose if you are:

  • a prisoner or detained in an immigration removal centre
  • detained (sectioned) under the Mental Health Act 1983
  • a serving member of the armed forces
  • someone who has been referred to services commissioned or provided by local authorities.
  • Changing hospital. You have the right to ask to change hospital if you have to wait longer than the maximum waiting times (currently 18 weeks for anything other than specialist cancer treatment). If you need to see a consultant, you can ask to be referred to a different hospital if you have to wait more than 18 weeks before starting treatment if your treatment is not urgent.

Exceptions – you don’t have the right to ask to be referred to a different hospital if:

  • the services you are using are not led by a consultant
  • you choose to wait longer for your treatment
  • delaying the start of the treatment is in your best interest (for example if you first need to lose weight or give up smoking)
  • your treatment is no longer necessary.
  • Having a care coordinator and a care treatment plan (Wales). In Wales, you have the right to a care coordinator who will work with you to help coordinate your care. You also have the right to Care and Treatment Planning. For more information, see our pages on leaving hospital.
  • Re-referring yourself for a secondary mental health assessment (Wales). In Wales, if you're over 18 and not currently receiving secondary mental health care, but have received it in the previous three years, then you have a right to re-refer yourself for a further secondary mental health assessment without seeing your GP first. This assessment should be carried out within a reasonable time, and it should identify what secondary mental health services, or other services, might improve your mental health or stop it getting worse.


Geoff has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and visits his GP to be referred for treatment. His friend, who also has the same diagnosis, has told him that she has been treated by a consultant psychiatrist who has been very helpful to her.

Geoff discusses this with his GP who uses the NHS e-Referral Service to search for this consultant psychiatrist and find out where she works. Geoff’s GP creates a list for him and gives him log-in details for the service.

At home, Geoff logs into the e-Referral Service and researches the various organisations the psychiatrist works at. He selects one which is fairly close to his home and books an appointment.

Geoff will be treated by his chosen health care specialist or a member of her team at the organisation and location of his choice.

For tips on how to be more involved in any decisions about your healthcare treatment, see our pages on making sense of your options and being actively involved.


This information was published in February 2018. We will revise it in 2020.

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