Healthcare in the UK

Dermatologist looking at woman's mole with magnifier

The standard of healthcare in the United Kingdom is generally very good no matter where you live. While there is little getting away from the fact that waiting times for non-emergency treatment can be very long and booking an appointment with a local doctor is often a great deal harder than it should be (due to staff shortages), these gripes are largely compensated for by the fact that the country’s public health service is largely provided for free.

While each of the four countries the make up the UK – England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are responsible for administering their own health systems. All permanent residents of the UK are entitled to free healthcare at the point of access. Healthcare throughout the UK is funded by taxpayers through National Insurance contributions. All employed people in the UK contribute towards National Insurance (NI) – if you are employed by a company this will almost certainly be deducted automatically from your pay packet each month, while self employed people will need to register and pay it off their own back.

When you arrive to live in the UK you will need to apply for a NI Card (or number) at your local Jobcentre Plus. For this you will need to arrange to sit a one-to-one interview (unless, for example, you need an interpreter) and bring with you a number of forms of ID including passport and residence permit. Once you have done this you will then be assigned an NHS (National Healthcare Service) number through the post. Once this is received you can apply to a local doctor’s surgery for a GP however, you will only be accepted by a GP if they have space available so you may find that you’ll need to look around to find a doctor willing to take you on as a patient.

All GP consultations, hospital stays and treatments and use of emergency services are free for UK permanent residents. If you are not a resident or don’t have a residence permit, then you may still be covered for treatment depending on where you are from. The UK has reciprocal health agreements with a number of countries including other EU member states, Australia and New Zealand. If you are not from one of these countries then you are strongly advised to take out some form of private healthcare insurance although you will still be covered for hospital care.

In England, most residents aside from families on low incomes, children under 19 (if they’re in full-time education – 16, if not) and those aged over 59 will have to pay for prescription medicines  usually £8.20 per prescription. In Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland prescription drugs are free. Eye care and dental care will also cost money for most residents of the UK, although those who register with an NHS Dentist will benefit from 25 per cent discounts on these costs. Cosmetic surgeries are also likely to incur a hefty cost, although in extreme or necessary circumstances these can be carried out for free.

Private healthcare is not as common in the UK as it is in some countries, and not too many employers will offer contributions towards private insurance. However, due to the aforementioned long waiting lists for most services and the difficulty for some in securing routine doctor’s appointments, those who can afford to may wish to look at ‘going private.’ The private healthcare system in the UK is of an extremely high standard and private hospitals generally tend to specialise in a particular type of care. There are hundreds of private medical centres and hospitals located throughout the UK and a number of companies which provide insurance and other services, of which BUPA and AXA PPP Healthcare are two of the largest.

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