Being referred to hospital for secondary care or going straight to hospital in an emergency
Most health problems can be diagnosed and treated at primary health care level by general practitioners (GPs) or other primary care medical personnel. However, if you have an injury or illness that requires special tests and/or expertise, you may need to go to hospital or another secondary care unit.
The usual way of accessing hospital or secondary care is by referral, either from a GP or from another medical professional at a primary care centre (a walk-in centre, for example). People also have direct access to hospital treatment when they go to an accident and emergency department. Some hospital clinics are also run on the basis of self-referral, such as clinics for sexually transmitted infections (called STI clinics or genito-urinary medicine clinics).
If your GP or another medical practitioner at a primary care centre thinks that your condition may be serious and requires urgent attention, he or she will refer you to hospital for immediate assessment and treatment or will arrange for an urgent appointment with an appropriate specialist. For less urgent conditions, you may have to wait longer after referral for an appointment with a specialist.
People with urgent medical problems may be treated in the accident and emergency department of a hospital, and are sometimes admitted to hospital for further care if it is needed.
You may be taken to hospital by ambulance after an accident, or emergency admission may be arranged by your GP or another medical practitioner. For example, if you have severe chest pain that suggests a heart attack, you may be taken straight to hospital by ambulance. If your condition is serious, paramedics may stabilize your condition or begin treatment on the way.
Many people go to the accident and emergency department themselves after an accident or because they have severe symptoms, such as bleeding. However, every year thousands of people arrive at hospital with minor health problems that could have been dealt with by their GP or another health practitioner at a primary care centre. If your injuries or symptoms are not severe, you should consider seeing your GP, going to a walk-in centre or minor injury unit, or calling the NHS helpline (NHS Direct) for advice.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.