Asking for a second opinion is not a legal right, but most doctors will be happy to refer you.
If you are unsure about anything to do with your diagnosis or treatment, you can always ask for another appointment with your GP or consultant. Or you can talk to someone else in your healthcare team, like your specialist nurse.
It may help to take a family member or friend with you to these appointments, so they can help you remember what is said. You might also prefer to write down your concerns before your appointment, so you feel more prepared.
Here are some of the reasons why you might ask for another appointment or a second opinion:
Unsure about your diagnosis
If you are unsure about your diagnosis, it is important to talk to your cancer doctor about any concerns you have. They can go through the results of any tests with you to explain what they have found. You should be able to ask for a written copy of your test results before the appointment.
Not understanding everything you have been told
Many people find it difficult to take information in when they are anxious or upset. If you are unsure about what you have been told, ask for another appointment so that you can go through the information again.
Unhappy with recommended treatment
You may have heard from someone or read somewhere that another treatment is better than the one planned for you. It is important to remember that even if you have the same type of cancer as someone else, the same treatment may not be suitable for you. For example, the cancer may be at a different stage, or they may have other medical conditions to consider. Your doctor should be able to explain why they have recommended a particular treatment for you.
Difficulty talking to your doctor or specialist
If you find it difficult to talk to your GP or consultant, it may help to tell them this. You could ask to see someone else in their team, for example a registrar, a nurse specialist, or another GP in the practice.
If you want a second opinion from a GP, you can ask to see another GP at your surgery. Or you could consider changing your surgery. You may want to discuss this with the practice manager.
There are different ways of getting a second opinion from a hospital consultant or specialist:
Ask your GP
Your GP will be able to refer you for a second opinion, either on the NHS or privately. This can allow you to get an independent second opinion. Some people do their own research to find the name of a consultant they think they would like to see.
Ask your current consultant
For funding reasons, your current consultant may not be able to refer you to some specialists. They may advise to talk to your GP about getting a second opinion from another specialist. You may worry that asking for a second opinion will upset your consultant. But this is unlikely to happen. Doctors often ask for the opinion of a colleague, especially for complex cases.
Family or carers can ask you
If you agree to them doing so family members and carers can make a request on your behalf.
When you are referred for a second opinion, your medical information will be sent to the new doctor or specialist. This will include any scans, test results and any previous treatments you have had. If needed, the new specialist can ask for information from the original doctor and hospital.
After you have had your second opinion, if you want to be treated under the second doctor, this will need to be formally agreed and arranged with them.
There are advantages and disadvantages of getting a second opinion.
- If both doctors agree about your diagnosis and treatment, this will help you feel more confident about their plan for your treatment and care.
- You may find that you get on better with a different doctor and have more confidence in what they say.
- You may be offered different treatments, or treatment as part of a clinical trial.
- Waiting for a second opinion may mean your treatment is delayed. The person you see for a second opinion will also need to get information from your first doctor, which can take time. It may be worth asking your current consultant if a delay in treatment may cause you any harm.
- You may find it upsetting being told the same, or different, news about your diagnosis and treatment if it is not what you were hoping for.
- If you are offered a different treatment, you may be asked to decide which treatment to have. Some people find this difficult and worry about whether they will make the right decision.
- You may have to travel a long way to a different hospital to see another specialist. You may also then need to have your treatment at that hospital. This might not be easy for you or your family and may mean extra travelling costs.
It can help to prepare for your appointment by thinking about what you want to get from it. It may help to write down some questions beforehand, to make sure your concerns are covered during the discussion. It can also help to take a family member or friend with you so they can help you remember what is said. Or they can write down notes for you.
Here are some examples of questions you may want to ask.
- If the second opinion differs from the original one, what is the reason for this?
- Are there other treatments I could have?
- Do I need any treatment?
- What are the side effects of these other treatments?
- What impact might the treatments have on my life?
- How long will I have treatment for?
- Will I need to have my treatment at another hospital?
Difficulty getting a referral for a second opinion
If you find it difficult to get a referral for a second opinion, you may be able to get help from patient advice services. These are different depending on where you live in the UK:
- England – the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)
- Scotland – the Patient Advice and Support Service
- Wales – your local Community Health Council
- Northern Ireland – your Patient and Client Council.
You can get the phone number of your patient advice service from the hospital switchboard. Or your local Citizens Advice may be able to advise you.