Getting a second opinion

Your treatment will be planned using national treatment guidelines. Even so, you may want another medical opinion about your diagnosis or treatment.

Common reasons why people want a second opinion are:

  • they have doubts about their diagnosis
  • they may not understand the information they have been given
  • they are not happy with the recommended treatment
  • they feel they cannot talk to the doctor or specialist about their diagnosis or treatment.

You can ask your GP or specialist to refer you to another specialist for a second opinion. Getting a second opinion may delay the start of your treatment, so you and your doctor need to be confident that it will give you useful information.

If you do go for a second opinion, it may be a good idea to take a family member or friend with you. Have a list of questions ready, so you can make sure your concerns are covered during the discussion.

If you have difficulty getting a referral for a second opinion, you can get advice from your hospital patient advice service.

Why you might ask for a second opinion

Your GP and multidisciplinary team (MDT) will use national treatment guidelines to plan the most suitable treatment for you. Many people are happy with the treatment their doctor has planned for them, but some people want a second opinion.

Asking for a second opinion is not a legal right, but most doctors will be happy to refer you.

Here are some of the reasons why you might ask for a second opinion.

You may have doubts about your diagnosis

If you are unsure about your diagnosis, it is important to ask for a further appointment with your GP or consultant. You can talk about any concerns you have. And 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. It may help to write down your concerns before your appointment.

You may not understand what 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. You may find it helpful to talk to another member of the healthcare team, such as a clinical nurse specialist. It can also help to take a family member or friend with you so they can help you remember what is said.

You may not be happy with the treatment your doctor has recommended

You may have heard from someone or read somewhere that another treatment for your illness 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, someone else’s cancer may be at a different stage, or they may have another medical condition to consider. If you are concerned about your treatment, ask for a further appointment with your doctor so you can talk to them about your concerns. They should be able to explain why they have recommended a particular treatment for you.

You may find it difficult to talk 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.

Getting a second opinion

GP David Plume explains getting a second opinion about your diagnosis or treatment.

About our cancer information videos

Getting a second opinion

GP David Plume explains getting a second opinion about your diagnosis or treatment.

About our cancer information videos


Advantages and disadvantages of getting a second opinion

There are advantages and disadvantages of getting a second opinion.

Possible advantages

  • 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 a treatment that has not been suggested before, or a newer treatment that is part of a clinical trial.
  • You may be offered a wider choice of treatments by the second doctor, so you can decide which treatment to have.

Possible disadvantages

  • Having a second opinion may mean your treatment is delayed by waiting to see another consultant. 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 you have extra travelling costs.


How to get a second opinion

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. You can ask your GP to refer you for a second opinion, either on the NHS or privately. Your GP will be able to refer you to someone not chosen by your current specialist. This will make sure that you 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.

Or you can ask your current consultant to refer you for a second opinion. For funding reasons, your current consultant may not be able to refer you to certain other specialists. They may ask you to discuss getting a second opinion with your GP, who will have more freedom to refer you to a specialist you both feel is right. 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 difficult or complex cases.

Family members and carers can request a second opinion on your behalf, but only if you agree to them doing so. When you are referred for a second opinion, your relevant 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.


Preparing for your second opinion appointment

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 so they can write down any 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 might other treatments improve my health?
  • How long will I need to be treated for?
  • Will I need to have my treatment at another hospital?

Difficulty getting a referral for a second opinion

If for some reason you find it difficult to get a referral for a second opinion, you may be able to get help from the hospital patient advice service. These are different depending on where you live in the UK:

You can get the phone number of your patient advice service from the hospital switchboard. Alternatively, your local Citizens Advice may be able to advise you.

Back to Making treatment decisions

How treatment is planned

A team of health professionals will work with you to plan the treatment that is best for your situation.

Making a complaint

If you are unhappy with the treatment or care you have received, you may want to make a complaint.

Making a decision

It is important to remember that the decision you make is the right one for you at the time.

Aims and side effects of treatment

Treatments can have different aims depending on your situation. Your healthcare team will explain the possible side effects of treatment.

Clinical negligence

If care given by a healthcare professional falls below an acceptable standard and causes injury or death, you can claim compensation for the harm done.