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Appointment booking

What is NHS e-Referral Service?

For some services, the NHS is required by law to offer you a choice, known as 'legal right to choice'. You currently have a legal right to:

  • choose which hospital or clinic to go to for your outpatient appointments
  • choose which consultant-led team will be in charge of your treatment, as long as that team provides the treatment you require.

See the section choosing a hospital for more information

  • choose which mental health provider and team you're referred to by your GP for your outpatient appointments. See the section how to access mental health services for more information. 

Download the NHS Choice Framework from the GOV.UK website for more detailed information.


How do I book or cancel an appointment?

Once you have decided on a hospital, you can book your first outpatient appointment through the NHS e-Referral Service. This service lets you choose a date and time for your appointment that is convenient for you.

To book your appointment select one of the following options:

  • book with your GP while you are at the surgery
  • book online using the details provided in your Appointment Request letter
  • book via phone by calling the NHS e-Referral Service line on
    0345 60 88 88 8 (open Monday-Friday, 8am to 8pm and on weekends and bank holidays 8am to 4pm)

Download the patient guidance to booking your appointment online (PDF, 5Mb).

Information about online and phone bookings

If you decide to book online or by phone then you will be given an appointment request letter, which will include your unique booking reference number and password, in addition to your NHS Number and a list of hospitals or clinics to choose from.

You will need these details when making or cancelling a booking online or via the Appointments Line 0345 6088888.

If you do not receive an appointment request letter, you will need to contact the healthcare provider who made your referral. Also see the box below' Why have I not received a confirmation letter?'

Most healthcare providers allow you to book your appointment through NHS e-Referral Service. Where this is not possible, the  Appointment Request letter shows a picture of a phone next to the relevant provider. You will then have to book directly with the hospital or service.


Contact NHS e-Referral Service

If you need further assistance or wish to raise any concerns, you can contact NHS e-Referral Service:

  • via email:
  • via The Appointments Line (TAL) Customer Services line on 01908 774 663 (Monday to Friday 9am-5pm, excluding bank holidays)


Why have I not received a confirmation letter?

Not all healthcare providers choose to send out confirmation letters. If you do not receive a letter, you can print your appointment details directly from NHS e-Referral Service.

If you are worried about your appointment booking, or cannot print your appointment details you can contact the healthcare provider directly to make sure they have a record of your appointment. You can find contact details for the hospital on this website. The associated Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) may also be able to assist.

Alternatively, you can contact The Appointments Line on 0345 6088888 who may be able to look into your appointment details for you.


Will NHS e-Referral Service reduce my waiting time?

If your referral is for non-urgent care, you have the right to start treatment, led by a consultant, within 18 weeks of being referred, unless you wish to wait longer or waiting longer is clinically right for you. For more information, read our guide to waiting times.

NHS e-Referral Service will provide you with information about appointment dates and times that are available from healthcare providers, allowing you to make a decision that is most suitable for you.

Why do I get the message 'no appointments available'?

This is due to the healthcare provider not having released enough appointments into NHS e-Referral Service. Individual healthcare providers are responsible for making their appointments available through the NHS e-Referral Service to make sure patients, GPs and other referrers can book appointments electronically.

The majority of healthcare providers release new appointment slots overnight, so it is worth trying again the following day. Alternatively, you can either choose a different provider or send your details on to your preferred healthcare provider, who will then contact you to arrange your appointment. 

Why do I get several reminder letters about my appointment?

For routine appointments, The Appointments Line automatically sends out two letters to remind patients to book their appointment. The first letter is sent 14 days after you’ve been referred by your GP. A second letter is sent 14 days after the first letter if the appointment is still not booked. Depending on the urgency of your referral, you may receive your letter sooner.

Sometimes, the time that you make your booking and when a letter is sent out can overlap. Be aware that the healthcare provider you have booked your appointment with is using a system that may not yet be linked to the NHS e-Referral Service. This may mean that extra copies of letters are written and sent unless the hospital updates NHS e-Referral Service.

What should I do if The Appointments Line is busy?

The Appointments Line is an easy way to book, change or cancel your appointment, and in many cases your call will be answered promptly. During peak times you may experience a delay, and hear an automated message telling you that the service is busy. However, if you stay on the line the team will answer your call as soon as possible.

If you feel un-happy with the service you receive from The Appointment Line, you can send an email to

How secure is NHS e-Referral Service?

For the NHS e-Referral Service to work, your personal details such as name, address, date of birth and why you are being referred, will be sent electronically to your chosen healthcare provider. Many GP practices already store patient information on their clinical computer systems.

NHS e-Referral Service follows strict national and international standards and requirements for holding and transferring accurate information electronically, including ISO 27001 and the eGovernment Interoperability Framework (eGIF). NHS e-Referral Service also meets the conditions of the Data Protection Act.

Your referral information will be held and sent securely and will only be seen by those who are directly involved in delivering your care. If you prefer, you can ask your GP to send a referral letter directly to the healthcare provider.

Why have I been locked out?

NHS e-Referral Service uses record locking to protect the confidentiality of each patients’ appointment requests. As a security measure, if you try to access your appointment details online but enter your log-in details incorrectly more than three times, a lock will be put in place. After 30 minutes of inactivity the NHS e-Referral Service removes the lock. If you then still having difficulties, you can contact The Appointments Line on 0345 608 8888 to get the lock removed.

Page last reviewed: 29/04/2016

Next review due: 29/04/2019