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Your spotlight on local services

Members of marginalised BME communities say that it's hard to get referred to specialist health services


'For the pain in my body and bones, my GP told me it was normal, happens to anyone and he prescribed me paracetamol. I waited a long time for the referral then they found out that I had rheumatism.'

This year Healthwatch has been involved in a partnership of 10 local organisations supporting marginalised black and minority ethnic (BME) communities in Islington. As part of this work, 207 BME residents gave their views on health services. One of the topics we asked them about was referrals to specialist services.

In the NHS, a specialist in a particular field of medicine (a surgeon, physiotherapist, or dermatologist for example) will only see you if your GP decides it is necessary. Often your GP will recommend other treatments or tests first, before deciding to refer you to a specialist.

  • 153 of the 207 people we spoke to had asked for their GP for a referral in the last two years
  • 84 people had found the process easy, or at least non-problematic.
  • 69 had found it either difficult or very difficult to get their GP to refer them. That's a high proportion.

'After giving birth, I experienced numbness in both hands, but my GP never referred me to a specialist to attend the cause of my discomfort. This was a year ago. I also experienced post-natal depression and my GP did not refer me to a  therapist, inquire about how I was feeling, or explain the reasons for my symptoms. Currently, I have difficulty grabbing things with both hands and I cannot write using a keyboard.'

Those that reported a good experience of referrals said that this was because their GP had a good understanding of their condition and their medical history. They also reported a good rapport with their doctor, 'My GP talks to me, listens to me and decides with me. I can take part in my own referral.'

But where patients struggle to communicate effectively with their doctor because of language needs, it is harder to establish this kind of good relationship. 97 of the residents we spoke to said they needed support if they were to make themselves understood at the doctors. Read the full report here.

If you've asked your GP for a referral and would like to share your experience, please get in touch.