The Cost of a Referral

Published: 7th February 2024
Using Consultant Connect helps reduce the number of unnecessary hospital visits and ensures patients get the right care, the first time.
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Looking at the cost of healthcare, it is often presumed that this is the monetary value of a face-to-face appointment. However, this does not consider the secondary costs that arise as a result, such as the communication in triggering the referral and arranging the appointment or the inconvenience and costs for patients travelling to the consultation.

An article published by the King’s Fund in 2023 looked at key facts and figures about the NHS, including the average costs of various treatments:

  • Attending A&E: £86 – £418
  • Overnight hospital stay: £483
  • Ambulance A&E conveyance: £367
  • Ambulance call-out not resulting in a trip to A&E: £276
  • Operation: the cost depends on different factors, including the complexity of a procedure/length of stay in hospital post-procedure, e.g., an emergency appendix removal operation for a child without complication costs, on average, £3,409. Whilst the cost of an elective hip fracture procedure varies from £2,092 to £6,797 depending on the procedure’s complexity and the patient’s condition.
  • GP consultation: £42 for the average nine-minute GP face-to-face appointment

Despite the vast gap in the above costs, this is assuming that the patient:

a.) needs the referral,

b.) is on the correct pathway, and

c.) is being referred at the appropriate point in their treatment.

This is important because when a patient is seen in the right place, at the right time, by the right clinician, it improves patient experience, reduces unwarranted pressure on services and saves time and money.

Hospitalisation is one of the most significant expenses for the NHS, and the cost of hospital care accounts for approximately 50% of the total NHS budget.

The number of referrals for elective care is increasing at a rate of 3.2% a year, with the number of patients referred for outpatient appointments rising by 42% between 2009 and 2019. NHS England operational statistics from November 2023 showed that the NHS is treating more patients than before the pandemic, with an increase of 5% from November 2022. If the number of patients unnecessarily referred for elective care appointments in Secondary Care is reduced, patients needing to be seen urgently can be prioritised.

How can Consultant Connect help?

Our services are designed to help connect healthcare professionals and patients across the NHS, reducing unnecessary hospital visits and ensuring patients get the right care, the first time via:

  • Enhanced Advice & Guidance – Connecting with specialist clinicians via Telephone or Photo Messaging allows practitioners to discuss a management plan or referral for patients. Nearly 1.5 million calls have been placed by clinicians via our service, with data from the last eight years showing that 68% of calls to elective care specialties avoid an unnecessary hospital visit, and 36% of calls from ambulance staff avoid unnecessary patient conveyances.


  • Referral Triage and Validation – Using the expertise of out-of-area NHS consultants on our National Consultant Network to work through backlogs or new referrals as they come in results in a prioritised waiting list. Over 60,000 referrals have been triaged across 12 NHS Trusts in 17 specialties, with data showing that, on average, a third of patients don’t need to be on the waiting list in the first place and are safely returned to Primary Care with a treatment plan.


  • Patient-Initiated Follow-Up (PIFU) and Patient Connect – Our PIFU service enables patients to initiate virtual consultations with a specialist clinician. This reduces unnecessary hospital visits and patient waiting times and allows clinical teams to see patients quickly. Patient Connect allows clinicians to easily set up and deliver telephone consultations from anywhere, saving face-to-face appointments for patients who need them. One of our Trust partners uses both PIFU and Patient Connect to support patients with rheumatological needs. Patients initiate IG-secure virtual consultations for Rheumatology advice and/or prescription and blood queries via Consultant Connect’s PIFU service, and specialists place calls back to the patients using Patient Connect. To date, over 23,000 patient calls have been placed via the service, with specialist nurses and consultants using Patient Connect to place calls back to patients for virtual consultations. Overall, 60% of calls are resolved the first time, avoiding the need for the patient to attend hospital.


But don’t take our word for it; see how Consultant Connect is working for real clinicians in NHS areas all across the UK by reading our case studies.

* Data correct as of February 2023 for queries with reported outcomes

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