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Using NHS hospital services in Wales

This advice applies to Wales

About your rights as an NHS hospital patient in Wales

You can get care from a hospital in Wales if:

  • you are referred by your GP
  • you attend a special clinic such as a sexual health clinic
  • if it is an emergency and you go to the Accident and Emergency department.

On this page you can find a range of information about your rights when you get care from an NHS hospital. This includes:

You can find more information about your treatment within the NHS on Adviceguide and from the NHS itself.

Finding information about hospitals in Wales

You can find information about how the performance of hospitals in Wales on the website

The website information includes:

  • hospital information, such as mortality rates, healthcare infection rates and nurse ratios
  • the results of patient satisfaction surveys
  • links to reports and locally-published performance data.

Hospital treatment in an emergency

If you need urgent medical attention, you can go directly to the accident and emergency (A and E) department of a hospital. However, not all hospitals have A and E departments. You can find your nearest hospital with an A and E department online at:

If you need an ambulance to get to hospital in an emergency, call 999. The ambulance should arrive within a few minutes. There are different target maximum times for ambulance arrival, depending on whether you live in an urban or rural area.

The hospital giving you the emergency treatment has responsibility for meeting the cost of the treatment. If you have to stay in hospital as an emergency in-patient, your Local Health Board has responsibility for meeting the cost.

When there is not an emergency

You can get hospital care if you are referred to a specialist by your GP, or if you go to a specialist clinic, for example a reproductive health clinic.

When you might not get hospital treatment

If you are violent

You might be refused NHS hospital treatment if you are violent or abusive to NHS staff. You might be refused treatment immediately, or you might be given a verbal or written warning before treatment is stopped.

Violent or abusive behaviour could include verbal abuse, threats, violence, drug or alcohol abuse in hospital or destruction of property.

Your Local Health Board will have a policy about what behaviour can lead to treatment being refused, and how this should be put into practice.

You can’t be refused treatment for more than twelve months.

You won't be refused treatment if you have severe mental health problems or a life-threatening condition and you are violent or abusive to NHS staff.

Treatment you might not be able to get on the NHS

You might not be able to get some types of treatment on the NHS. This is because some types of treatment, for example in-vitro fertilisation, might depend on the priorities of your Local Health Board. Your Local Health Board might have decided they can't provide this treatment in your area.

Access to other treatment might depend on your needs.

You can get more information about treatment that is not provided in your area, and how decisions about this are made, from your Local Health Board.

If you are unhappy because a certain form of treatment is not available, you can complain.

For more information about making a complaint, see NHS complaints in Wales.

However, healthcare providers must not refuse to give you treatment because of your race, sex, disability, age, religion or belief or sexuality. This would be discrimination.

More information about discrimination in health services.

If you have been refused a certain form of treatment you may wish to complain if you feel you have been treated unfairly, for example if you feel you have been discriminated against. 

Hospital charges

There is no charge for most hospital treatment for NHS patients who live in the United Kingdom. There are charges for visitors from overseas, except in the case of an emergency.

However, you may be charged for emergency examination and treatment of people if you are involved in a road accident.

You might also be charged for certain services, for example, beds with more privacy and alternative menus, patients' telephones and televisions.

For more information about charges for overseas visitors, see NHS charges for people from abroad.

For more information about charges for people involved in road accidents, see Traffic accidents.

Financial help for hospital patients

If you're getting certain welfare benefits, your benefits may be affected if you go into hospital.

If you're on a low income, you may be able to get help with travel costs to hospital and with the cost of prescriptions, wigs and fabric supports.

For more information about help with NHS costs, see Help with health costs

Seeing a consultant

Your GP might refer to you to see a specialist consultant if they think you need to.

If you want to see a particular doctor or consultant, you can ask for this. However you don't have a right to see the person you ask for, and your GP can't insist that you see a particular doctor or consultant.

But you do have the right to see a doctor who is capable of dealing with your situation.

If you have special reasons for wanting to see a particular consultant, for example, if your child is the consultant’s patient, you could ask for an appointment, explaining your reasons for wanting to see them. If you still have difficulty in seeing the consultant, you could write to the hospital administrator asking for their help.

If you want to get a second opinion you will need to ask the consultant, who may arrange for you to see someone else. If the consultant doesn't agree, you could ask your GP to help.

Waiting lists for an appointment or operation

It might not be possible for you to get the hospital treatment you need immediately. If so, you might have to go on a waiting list.

The NHS has maximum waiting times for getting treatment in hospital. If necessary, you might get treatment in a different hospital so you don't have to wait longer than the maximum time.

If you are waiting to be admitted to hospital, you should contact the hospital appointments’ department or the consultant on a regular basis, reminding the hospital staff that you are still waiting. If you are prepared to go into hospital at short notice you should say so, in case a cancellation occurs. You should also keep your GP informed of your condition, particularly if it gets worse.

There are also maximum waiting times for a first appointment as an out-patient.

How long you will have to wait depends on things like:

  • how serious your condition is
  • how busy the specialist is
  • other demands on the hospital facilities.

Waiting lists don't operate on a last come, last served basis. Where you are on a waiting list depends on a range of circumstances and may change. If your condition gets a lot worse, you can ask your GP to recommend to the hospital that you are seen quickly.

For more information about waiting times at a hospital in Wales, see the Welsh Government website at:

You can also get information about local waiting lists from your Local Health Board. If you have been waiting longer than the NHS target times you can complain.

For more information about making a complaint, see NHS complaints in Wales.

Waiting times when you go to the hospital

If you go into an accident and emergency (A and E) department, you should be assessed immediately.

You should be given a bed as soon as possible. Staff will try to make sure you don't have to wait more than 4 hours between your arrival at A and E and your admission, treatment or discharge but this is not compulsory. If you are using an out-patients’ department you should be given an appointment time. You should usually be seen within 30 minutes of that time.

If you have to wait for longer than the maximum waiting time you may want to complain.

For more information about making a complaint, see NHS complaints in Wales.

Hospital visits

Hospitals usually have set visiting times for when people can visit you. Sometimes your doctor might decide that visits would not be good for your health and will say that you can't have visitors.

There is usually also a limit to the number of people who can visit you at any one time. The rules about visits from children are the same as for other visitors.

If someone wants to visit you outside visiting hours, they should discuss this with the person in charge of the ward. If they can't get permission and they want to take it further, they should get in touch with the hospital administrator.

Hospital parking

Most NHS hospitals in Wales provide free parking for patients, staff and visitors. However, some hospitals which use private companies to provide parking still charge. It is expected that nearly all NHS hospitals in Wales will provide free parking by the end of 2011. You should check with the hospital about local arrangements before you go.

Financial help with hospital visits

If you get certain welfare benefits, you might be able to get help from your local council to pay for visits. You might be able to get help if you get:

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Pension Credit.

For more information see Extra help you can get if you're on benefits or your benefits have stopped.

Spiritual care in hospital

While you're in hospital you can have access to spiritual care if you want it. Spiritual care includes things like:

  • seeing a chaplain or spiritual care-giver to talk things through, and get advice and guidance
  • having somewhere to practice your religion or faith, like a prayer room
  • staff understanding different healthcare practices appropriate for people of different beliefs and faiths.

The Welsh Government has produced guidance on the standards of spiritual care which you should get in hospital. You can have a look at the guidance online at:

Using mobile phones in NHS hospitals

In Wales, patients are allowed to use mobile phones in designated areas in hospitals.

There should be signs up in all hospital areas which clearly say whether you can use a mobile phone there or not.

Mixed and single sex wards in hospital

Before you go into hospital you should be told whether you will be in a single or a mixed sex ward. This is unless it is an emergency, or you are admitted to an intensive care unit.

Your privacy and dignity should be protected when you are in hospital. There should be private washing areas and screens available where appropriate.

You can't insist that you are cared for in a single sex ward. If you ask to be in a single sex ward, you may have to delay your admission to hospital if this is not available immediately.

If your operation is cancelled

If your operation is cancelled, you should be offered a different date for it to take place. Usually, this should be within 28 days of the original date. It should be sooner than that if your condition is life threatening. If this does not happen you may want to complain.

For more information about making a complaint, see NHS complaints in Wales.

Your operation should only be cancelled on the day that you go into hospital for medical reasons. If is cancelled on the day for another reason, the NHS has standards about how soon you should be offered an alternative date. The reasons it might be cancelled on the day include the surgeon being unavailable, or there not being enough time available in the operating theatre.

When someone dies in hospital

If a person dies in hospital, NHS staff should inform their family and GP as soon as possible. The staff should also advise the family of the arrangements that need to be made.

There are some situations where the Local Health Board might be responsible for the funeral arrangements. This might be if there are no relatives, or the relatives are unable to afford the cost and do not qualify for help from the Social Fund.

Find out more about help with funeral costs on GOV.UK.

Children and hospital treatment

If your child is about to go into hospital, there will be lots of things to think about. You might want to consider:

  • whether you can stay with your child
  • how much help you can give with feeding and looking after your child
  • what will happen to your child’s education.

Hospitals should allow parents to be with their children as much as possible. They often allow unrestricted visiting on children's wards. This means that they often allow you to visit your child at any time. This could include allowing you to stay overnight at the hospital. You should ask your local hospital what their arrangements are before your child goes into hospital.

If you are finding it difficult to visit a child in hospital, for example, if you have other children at home, you may want to discuss this with the medical social worker at the hospital.

Action for Sick Children are a UK charity that specialise in healthcare for children. They may be able to give you advice when your child is going into hospital. They also have a leaflet for parents whose child is going into hospital for the first time.

You can contact Action for Sick Children at:

Action for Sick Children
32b Buxton Road
High Lane
Helpline: 0800 074 4519 (freephone)
Tel/Fax: 01663 763 004

The Association for the Welfare of Children in Hospital (AWCH) is a charity covering the whole of Wales which can also give you useful information about these issues. Their contact details are:

Association for the Welfare of Children in Hospital (AWCH) (Wales)
20 Caebryn Avenue
Tel: 01792 205227

Leaving hospital

You should only have to leave hospital when arrangements have been made for what happens next. You should have an assessment of your care needs. From this, plans should be put in place to make sure you get the care and services you need when you leave hospital.

Your assessment should consider what you want, and what your family or carer wants. You should be told about what is happening, and be given enough time to make decisions yourself. You should also be told how to question any decisions made about your care that you are not happy with.

If your situation changes in the future, you can ask for your care needs to be assessed again.

The NHS Wales Discharge Medicines Service is designed to ensure that when you return home after a stay in hospital, you continue to receive the correct medicines. When you leave hospital, you are given a copy of your Discharge Advice Letter, and a copy is sent to your GP. You or someone you name to act on your behalf, can give a copy of the Discharge Advice Letter to your local pharmacy.

The pharmacist will then check that you continue to receive any new medication and stop having anything that is no longer appropriate. For further information on this service ask at your local chemist or email to If you're in hospital, ask the ward pharmacist.

If you are not happy with the plans for when you leave hospital

You might not be happy with the plans for when you leave hospital. This might be because:

  • you feel that you are not ready to leave hospital – you feel you need to stay for more treatment
  • you are not happy with the community care services that have been arranged for you after you leave hospital
  • you do not want to be sent to a care home.

If you are not happy, you can ask for a review of the decision about your continuing NHS care. This means that you can ask for the decision about whether you carry on getting care from the NHS to be looked at again. Someone can also ask for this on your behalf. This could be your family, carer or representative,

If you are not happy with the plans that have been made for you, you can complain.

If you are not happy with any medical services you get from the NHS, you should use the NHS complaints procedure.

If you are not happy with community care services from your local authority, you should complain to the local authority using its complaints procedure.

For information about making a complaint, see NHS complaints in Wales.

If you are unhappy with your discharge from hospital or with the plans for your care after you have left hospital, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Further help

On Adviceguide

For more information on your rights and your GP in Wales, see Using an NHS GP in Wales.

For more information about your rights across NHS services in Wales, see NHS patients rights in Wales.

For more information about the healthcare available to you on the NHS, see What health care can I get on the NHS?

For more information about making a complaint about NHS care, see NHS complaints.

On NHS Direct Wales

You can find more information about NHS services in Wales on NHS Direct Wales at:

The website gives you information about:

  • local medical services, including how to find your nearest dentist, GP, hospital or pharmacist
  • how to choose the best hospital or clinic for a particular treatment or procedure
  • common diseases and conditions such as diabetes, and guides to common procedures, such as hip replacements
  • how to make a complaint about an NHS service
  • how to lead a healthier life.

NHS Direct Wales also operate a non-emergency online enquiry service. Don’t use this service if you or someone else are feeling ill or experiencing symptoms – contact NHS Direct Wales or your GP. You can use the online enquiry service for questions about health. You can go online, enter your enquiry, and a skilled health information specialist will try to answer within 2 working days. They can answer enquiries about things like:

  • common conditions
  • local NHS services
  • patients' rights
  • healthy living.

The service is available in Welsh and English online at:

You can also get confidential advice and information about health problems and services over the phone from NHS Direct Wales. It provides 24-hour access to free health advice from experienced nurses. The line is intended to help you care for yourself by advising on the next course of action, for example, whether to stay at home and what self-treatment to take, whether to visit a GP or a hospital.

The contact details for NHS Direct Wales are:

Telephone: 0845 46 47 (all calls charged at local rate)
Textphone on 0845 606 4647 or call through RNID Typetalk on 1 8001 0845 46 47

Local and national government information

The Welsh Government's Department of Health and Social Care is responsible for health services in Wales. You can find information about services and the latest health news and publications on the department’s website at:

Local Health Boards (LHB) are now responsible for all health care services in their area. You can find out how to contact your LHB on the NHS Direct Wales website at:

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