Health centres and emergency rooms never demand a referral. Their job is to perform an initial assessment of your health problems. They will issue any referral you need in order to see another specialist, such as a dermatologist or a physiotherapist.
A referral specifies the kind of care you should have, whether it is an assessment, examination or treatment programme. It might also describe how you are feeling, what symptoms you are experiencing, previous illnesses and health problems you have had.
While a doctor usually issues a referral, a nurse at a child welfare centre and certain other caregivers are also authorized to do so.
Generally speaking, you will not actually see the referral, but you must always be told where it is being sent and what kind of care you will be receiving at the clinic—which might be located at a regional hospital—that receives it. You must also be informed about the length of time that you might have to wait for an appointment there.
Some clinics always require a referral from a doctor. It is a good idea to find out what the particular clinic that you have chosen demands. Each county council and region has its own referral procedures.
Referrals to another county council or region
You may be referred to a clinic in another county council or region if, for instance, the care you need is not available where you are living. Your county council or region will then pay for the expenses associated with your trip.
If you receive a referral for outpatient specialist care, such as cataract surgery, you can go anywhere in the country you like. In such cases, you must pay your own travel and hotel expenses.
If you decide that you want outpatient specialist care in another county council or region, make sure to find out what kind of referral procedures the clinic has.
If your county council or region requires a referral, you must also obtain one when you seek care somewhere else even if it would not ordinarily be necessary there.
Making your own appointment
Many county councils permit you to make an appointment at a specialist without getting a referral. Some clinics want you to send them a letter first.
The letter should describe how you are feeling and explain why you need care. The clinic might have a form for you to fill out instead of writing a letter. The clinic will schedule an appointment if they think you need to be examined.
You can write a letter and request an appointment at a specialist in another county council or region only if a referral is not required either there or in your own county council.
How long will you have to wait?
You have the right to consult with your doctor about where you will be referred to. Some clinics have long waiting periods. You may request a referral to a clinic with a shorter waiting period, and the fact that you need speedy care can be noted. But it is up to the clinic to determine how quickly they are able to see you.
Health care guarantee depends on the situation
When you are given a referral to a clinic in your county council or region, you are covered by the national health care guarantee, which says that you are entitled to care within a certain period of time. For example, you will need to wait a maximum of 90 days for an appointment at a specialist clinic.
The guarantee is no longer in effect if you obtain a referral and decide that you would rather go to another county council or region. The primary factor that determines how long you will have to wait is your particular medical need.
Your patient fee (co-pay) varies according to the type of care you require and where you will be receiving it. The fee is covered by high-cost protection.
The doctor who wrote your referral remains responsible for your care until your appointment at the new clinic. Contact your doctor if your symptoms get worse while you are waiting.