England: getting the right treatment and care

Find out what should happen at each stage of your epilepsy treatment and care in England.

A man looking at a container of epilepsy medicine

On this page we explain what should happen at each stage of your epilepsy treatment and care. We know that some people are waiting a long time for their neurology appointments, and may even consider looking for a private epilepsy specialist.

There’s advice here and on our page: Epilepsy and your rights if you feel your treatment and care is not meeting the standards we describe below. We also list some organisations and guidelines that can help you get the right treatment and care.

The information on this page applies to people in England. We have separate information for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.


What should happen if I’ve had a suspected first seizure?

If you go to A&E (Accident and Emergency) after your first seizure first seizure, they might do some tests to try and work out what caused it. It can help with diagnosis to have an account from someone who has seen what happened when you had your seizure.

Anyone can have a one-off seizure, but this doesn’t always mean they have epilepsy. You will usually only be diagnosed with epilepsy if:

  • You have had two or more seizures or
  • You have had one seizure and the doctor thinks there is a high chance you could have more

If the doctors at A&E think that you might have epilepsy, they should arrange for you to have an outpatient appointment with an epilepsy specialist. They might ask your GP to arrange this.

You may not need to go to A&E after a suspected first seizure, but you might go to your GP. If they think that you may have had a seizure, they should arrange an appointment for you with an epilepsy specialist.

The hospital or your GP should give you advice on what to do if you have another seizure while you are waiting for your appointment with the specialist.

Doctors who have extra training and expertise in diagnosing and treating brain conditions are called neurologists. Neurologists who specialise in epilepsy are also sometimes called epileptologists.

How long will I wait to see a specialist for the first time?

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines on epilepsy say that after a first suspected seizure, you should see an epilepsy specialist within 2 weeks of your GP making the referral.

The NICE guidelines are recommendations, and not law. The actual length of time it takes to see a neurologist for the first time will depend on how many appointments are available and how many people are on the waiting list. In England, the NHS Constitution says you have the right to see a specialist and start treatment within 18 weeks of your referral.

The website My Planned Care NHS can give you an idea of waiting times in your area and advice about preparing for appointments.

What should happen when I see the specialist for the first time?

The epilepsy specialist will ask about what happened before, during and after your seizure, plus any other symptoms you have. They will use this to help make a diagnosis.

If you have a video of the seizures, that could be really helpful. If you can, you may find it helpful to take a family member or friend with you to your appointment. They may be able to describe what happens when you have a seizure. Sometimes the specialist will be able to tell you straight away if they think you have epilepsy. Sometimes they may ask you to have some tests to help them make a diagnosis. They should explain what will happen during the tests, and why they want you to have them.

I have more questions. Who can I ask?

Ideally your epilepsy specialist can answer questions you may have, including those on safety and lifestyle. They may arrange for you to speak to an epilepsy specialist nurse if there is one at your hospital who can help to answer your questions. Your epilepsy nurse may not be available on the same day. Sometimes you may be able to contact the nurse by phone.

See Questions to ask your doctor for some suggestions of things to ask.

You can also contact the free Epilepsy Action Helpline.

How should my epilepsy be treated?

  • Care plans

    If you are given a diagnosis of epilepsy, your specialist will talk to you about possible treatment and care options. They should also agree an epilepsy care plan with you. This should cover your treatment, what to do if you have a seizure, and any other choices or lifestyle issues you have discussed. A care plan is especially useful for people who have long seizures or status epilepticus.

    See our information about care plans to download a template care plan.

  • Epilepsy medicines

    The main way to control seizures is with epilepsy medicine. NICE has a list of medicines it recommends for treating epilepsy. In England, the NHS Constitution says that if NICE recommends a medicine or treatment, you have a legal right to have access to it. This is as long as your specialist thinks it is the best treatment for you.

    Sometimes an epilepsy medicine comes onto the market in the UK, but NICE doesn’t look at it straight away. When this happens your specialist may still be able to prescribe the medicine for you, but only if the NHS in your local area has decided it will pay for it. In England, the organisations that make these decisions are called Integrated Care Boards.

    Epilepsy medicine is available in different versions made by different companies. NICE says that while you are taking an epilepsy medicine, you should be able to stay on the same manufacturer’s version of it.  This is unless you and your doctor don’t feel that switching versions would cause any problems.

    For more information see Switching between different versions of epilepsy medicine

Who will I see about my epilepsy treatment and care in England?

Your epilepsy will be treated by the neurologist or GP. NICE says that all children, young people and adults with epilepsy should also have access to an epilepsy specialist nurse, but we know this is not yet the case for everyone. Your GP or neurologist might arrange for you to see an epilepsy specialist nurse, if there is one in your area.


These are nurses with training and expertise in epilepsy. They can help with:

  • Answering questions about your treatment and living with epilepsy
  • Offering you an information and care-planning session that includes looking at your emotional wellbeing and ways to manage your epilepsy
  • Supporting you to reach your goals, achieve independence and improve confidence
  • Helping you to become an expert in your own epilepsy
  • Guiding you through shared decision-making
  • Being a link between you and your neurologist
  • In some areas, epilepsy specialist nurses have extra training so that they can prescribe epilepsy medicines


Free prescriptions

If you take medicine to treat your epilepsy, you can get all of your prescription medicines for free. Find out more about free prescriptions.

Epilepsy specialist nurse talking about treatment and care to a patient in their kitchen at home

How often should I have a review of my treatment?

NICE recommends that children and young people should have a regular epilepsy review with a doctor or nurse at least once a year.

If you are an adult, NICE says you should have a review at least once a year if any of these things apply:

  • You have a learning disability
  • You have drug-resistant epilepsy. This means you have tried 2 or more epilepsy medicines and are still having seizures
  • You are at high risk of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP)
  • You have another serious health problem alongside your epilepsy, such as a complex mental health problem
  • You are taking epilepsy medicine that has a risk of long-term side effects or interactions with other medicines
  • You are able to get pregnant and are taking sodium valproate or another medicine that has a high risk of causing problems if taken during pregnancy


If you are still having seizures, NICE also says you should be offered an appointment with an epilepsy specialist nurse at least twice a year, and after any visits to A&E.

Even if none of these things apply to you, you can still ask for a review of your epilepsy if you have any concerns. You might ask for a review if you:

  • Want to talk about stopping or changing your medicine
  • Are planning to get pregnant
  • Have had a change in your seizures. For example, the seizure type or how often they happen

Referral to specialist epilepsy services

NICE says that all children, young people and adults who have, or might have, epilepsy should have access to a specialist epilepsy service if needed. This is sometimes called a tertiary centre or tertiary service. Your specialist should refer you to a specialist centre if any of these things apply:

  • They are not sure what type of epilepsy, epilepsy syndrome or seizures you have
  • You have tried 2 or more epilepsy medicines, but are still having seizures
  • You have a particular epilepsy syndrome that is linked to a high risk of difficult to control seizures
  • You have, or are at risk of, severe side effects from your epilepsy medicine
  • You might benefit from further tests that are not available at your usual hospital
  • You might benefit from specialist treatments, such as certain epilepsy medicines, the ketogenic diet, epilepsy surgery or vagus nerve stimulation (VNS)
  • You have a learning disability, physical disability or mental health problem that means you need extra specialist support to manage your epilepsy
  • You would like to take part in a clinical trial or research study that you are eligible for


NICE also says that children who have, or might have, epilepsy should be referred to a specialist centre to be seen within 2 weeks if any of these things apply:

  • They are under 3 years old
  • They are under 4 years old and have myoclonic seizures
  • They have some damage or other problem affecting one side of their brain
  • Their behaviour, speech or learning is getting worse

A regional children’s neurology centre may also refer cases to the Refractory Epilepsy Specialist Clinical Advisory Service (RESCAS). This service discusses people who have very complex epilepsy and gives advice to the doctor who made the referral.

Can I choose which hospital I see a specialist at?

In England the NHS Constitution says you have a right to choose which hospital you see a specialist at. This is as long as the hospital you choose offers the services you need. If you need to see a specialist urgently, it’s unlikely you will be able to choose which hospital you go to. This is because there may not be a choice of hospitals that can see you quickly. In this case, it’s likely your doctor will refer you wherever the earliest appointment is available.


Examples of situations where you might get to choose which hospital you go to include:

  • You and your doctor think you need a second opinion
  • You already have a diagnosis of epilepsy but have never seen an epilepsy specialist
  • You already have a diagnosis but haven’t seen an epilepsy specialist for many years
  • You already have a diagnosis of epilepsy but have been discharged from your epilepsy specialist and now need a specialist review of your epilepsy

You can find information about different NHS hospital services in your area using the NHS website: My planned care.

What if I’m not happy with my treatment and care in England?

If you are unhappy with any part of your epilepsy treatment or care, you could:


  • Talk to the people involved

    Talking to the people involved can sometimes be the easiest way to resolve any problems. You could talk to your GP, the GP practice manager, your epilepsy specialist, epilepsy nurse or pharmacist. They may be able to reassure you, or make sure that the problem doesn’t happen again. Your specialist should be able to explain why they have made their diagnosis, or why they think the treatment that they are recommending is right for you.

  • See a different healthcare professional

    If you’re not happy with your treatment from a GP, you could book an appointment with a different GP at the same surgery. If you don’t feel happy seeing any of the GPs at your current surgery, you have the right to leave and register with a different surgery.

    If you want to see a different specialist, see the section below.

  • Make a complaint

    You have the right to complain about any aspect of NHS care or treatment, and to have your complaint dealt with properly. See the end of this page for details of organisations that can help if you want to make a complaint. The NHS website has more information about how to complain about an NHS service.

Can I get access to my health records?

Healthcare professionals are legally required to show you your health records if you ask for them. This should be done for free. If there are lots of different records, it may take some time for you to be able to see them.

The NHS website gives more information about accessing your GP health records, including using the NHS app to view them.

You might have to contact your hospital separately to ask for their records.

Can I get a second opinion from a different neurologist or epilepsy specialist?

If you’re not happy with the diagnosis or treatment recommended by your current specialist, you might consider asking for a second opinion. You don’t have a legal right to a second opinion, but if you ask for one your GP or specialist should consider your request.

There are 2 ways you can ask for a second opinion:

  • Ask your current specialist to arrange for you to see someone else
  • Ask your GP to refer you to a different specialist

Getting a second opinion from a different specialist doesn’t automatically mean they’ll take over your care. If you want to be treated by the new specialist, you’ll need to arrange this with the hospital. The Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) may be able to help. See useful organisations for more information about PALS.

What if I need extra care and support?

If your epilepsy means that you need extra care and support, you may qualify for help from your local Adult Social Care Services. You have the right to ask your local authority for a needs assessment to see if this is the case. A carer, friend, family member or your GP can also ask for a needs assessment for you.

During a needs assessment, your local Adult Social Care Services team will look at how you cope with day-to-day living and identify if you might need support. The type of support you get depends on your individual needs, but can include things like:

  • Getting you a seizure alarm
  • Making adaptations to your home to make it safer for you
  • Getting you some help with household tasks, such as cooking and cleaning
  • Moving you to more suitable accommodation

Carers UK has more information about needs assessments.


Local authorities are legally obliged to carry out a needs assessment for anyone who might need extra care and support. If they decide you are eligible to get help through Adult Services, they also have a duty to provide this help to you. How much of this help they pay for and how much you have to pay towards it is based on your individual circumstances.

If you need extra care and support, you may also be entitled to some benefits.

Epilepsy Action has information on Carer’s Allowance.


Complaints about social care services

If you are not happy with your needs assessment, you can complain to your local authority. They have a duty to investigate your complaint. If they can’t resolve your complaint, you can ask the Local Government Ombudsman to investigate.

Useful guidelines and organisations

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)

NICE gives advice to the NHS on caring for people with specific conditions or diseases and the treatments they should receive. NICE’s advice about epilepsy is set out in its guideline Epilepsies in children, young people and adults. The advice in this guideline applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.


The NHS Constitution

The NHS Constitution sets out your legal rights as an NHS patient in England. These rights include access to health and community care services, and to quality care and treatment. They also cover your right to confidentiality, information, and the right to complain if things go wrong.


Integrated Care Systems and Integrated Care Boards (England)

Integrated care systems are partnerships of NHS bodies, local authorities and other local organisations. They are responsible for planning and delivering joined up health and care services to improve the lives of people in their local area. Integrated Care Boards are statutory NHS organisations responsible for planning and commissioning health services in the local area.

You can find more information about Integrated Care Boards on the NHS website.


Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

Most hospitals in England have a PALS office. PALS gives free, impartial advice to help you resolve any issues with your NHS treatment or care. They can also give you information on how to complain and tell you where to get help with making a complaint.

You can find your nearest PALS office on the NHS  website.


The Patients Association

An independent patient charity campaigning for improvements in health and social care for patients. They cover all health and care issues, and work with patients directly as well as policymakers.
Helpline – 0800 345 7115


Healthwatch England

Healthwatch England gathers evidence on issues in health and social care and uses this evidence to influence national health policy. They have a network of local offices throughout England. Find your local Healthwatch office on the Healthwatch England website.


Advocacy services

An advocate is someone who can speak up for you if you find it difficult to do so yourself. This could involve them talking to the healthcare professionals involved in your care, attending meetings and appointments with you, or helping you to make a complaint. Advocate services are free and independent of the NHS and social services.

Contact your local council to find an advocacy service near you.


Citizens Advice

Citizens Advice provides advice to everyone on their rights and responsibilities. They have information about your rights as an NHS patient and how to complain about NHS or social care services.

This information has been produced under the terms of the PIF TICK. The PIF TICK is the UK-wide Quality Mark for Health Information. Please contact website@epilepsy.org.uk if you would like a reference list for this information.
Published: April 2024
Last modified: April 2024
To be reviewed: April 2027
Tracking: A066.07 (previously F148)
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