Waiting times and the 18 weeks referral to treatment (RTT) pledge 

The NHS Constitution gives patients the right to access services within maximum waiting times, or for the NHS to take all reasonable steps to offer you a range of suitable alternative providers if this is not possible.

This right is a legal entitlement protected by law, and applies to the NHS in England. The maximum waiting times are described in the Handbook to the NHS Constitution.

What to expect

  • Your GP, dentist or other health professional will refer you to a specialist via the NHS e-Referrals service or a referral letter
  • Your 18 weeks waiting time starts on the day the hospital receives the referral letter or on the day you make the booking for your first appointment, via the NHS e-referral service
  • If you were referred by letter you will be called or asked to call, to make an outpatient appointment and offered a choice of dates. Or we will make a provisional appointment for you which you can choose to rearrange if the date and time are not convenient for you
  • You will attend your first outpatient appointment
  • You may be sent for a diagnostic test
  • You may require a follow-up appointment
  • If you need surgery you will need to attend a pre-admission appointment
  • You may require treatment and a stay in hospital
  • Your 18 weeks waiting time ‘clock’ ticks until you receive your first treatment.

Even if you require all of the above tests and appointments this should take no longer than 18 weeks. Sometimes however, it may not be appropriate for you to receive treatment in 18 weeks. This may be because as a patient you:

  • may need your condition to be actively monitored by UCLH without clinical intervention or diagnostic procedures at that stage
  • choose to wait longer than 18 weeks.

How you can help us help you

Top tips

  • Talk to your GP about what to expect
  • If your treatment is routine please make sure you will be available for the next 18 weeks
  • If you are planning a holiday for two or more weeks or have other commitments, you and your GP may decide to delay your referral until you are available
  • Tell us if you change address or your telephone number
  • Complete and return the registration form that will be sent to you prior to your first appointment
  • Keep your appointments and arrive on time
  • Let us know in plenty of time if you are unable to attend an appointment
  • Write your questions down before you attend so that you don’t forget to ask
  • Let us know if you think that you have been waiting too long.

Missed appointments

Nine out of ten patients arrive on time for their appointments. However, even one missed appointment can cause delays for you and other patients, and waste precious NHS resources.

  • If you miss an appointment and don't let us know in advance, then we may ask you to go back to your GP. They will refer you back to us again if and when appropriate.
  • While we aim to offer you a choice of appointments, if you are unable to agree a date that is within the 18 weeks waiting times then we may refer you to go back to your GP and  ask that you contact us nearer the time you will be available.

What if I haven’t received an appointment date?

If you think you are waiting too long for an appointment, please contact the telephone  number on the top of the letter you received.  If you are still not satisfied contact our PALS office

For further information please visit the NHS Choices website