Health Care in the UK

Healthcare in the UK, for non-residents and residents can be accessed through the public or private sector. The comprehensive publicly funded system, known as the National Health Service or NHS, provides primary healthcare for everyone, regardless of residential status. The National Health Service (NHS) was set up in July 1948, and It is recognized as one of the best health services in the world by the World Health Organization. In the great majority of cases the service is completely free of charge. You may also think of pursuing a medical career in the NHS as good doctors and nurses are in high demand!

However, you must be a resident to access secondary care. One of the downsides is that waiting times can be long and you will have fewer alternatives for treatments.


How the National Health Service Work

Once you’ve registered with the NHS, a GP (general practitioner) is your first port of call for most medical issues. You have the legal right to choose your GP. You may go about this in different ways; for example, you can ask people you trust for recommendations or you can do research online. A GP practice cannot refuse you, unless they have reasonable grounds, such as not having capacity to take you on board. You can change practice if you wish, without providing any reasons.

In order to do this, you will need to provide the following documents:

  • Valid ID (e.g. passport, national identity card, etc.)
  • Proof of address (e.g. bank statement, utility bill, etc.)


 NHS Services

The NHS is very comprehensive, and as long as you are ordinarily a resident (live in the UK lawfully, settled, and voluntarily). It entitles you to the following free services:

  • consultations with your GP and nurse;
  • treatment at accident and emergency (A&E);
  • treatment for minor injuries in clinics;
  • maternity services;
  • sexual health services and contraception;
  • if referred by your GP, treatment with a specialist.

With some exemptions (e.g. people with chronic illnesses, cancer sufferers), patients are required to pay for:

  • prescriptions;
  • dental care;
  • eye care;
  • wigs and fabric supports.


UK Healthcare Costs

Even though prescriptions are paid, they have a fix priced, regardless of the type of medication or the quantity you require per treatment. The current prescription charge is 9 GBP per item (11.50 USD). In the UK, pharmacies are commonly called chemists. The major chain is Boots, but many supermarkets have them in their premises. There also many online alternatives, such as Lloyds Pharmacy and Chemist Direct.


All ordinary UK residents are entitled to hospital treatment. However, if it’s not an emergency then your GP or a qualified healthcare professional must refer you. Emergency services are free of charge for everyone, including non-residents. However, non-residents will need the relevant health insurance to access non-urgent free hospital care (primary care) in NHS hospitals in the UK.

Once you are registered with a GP, you will be able to book consultations for free. It is unusual to get a same-day appointment. You will usually be able to book or change an appointment directly at your GP practice in three different ways:

  • online;
  • via phone;
  • in person (you can directly schedule an appointment at reception)


Private Health Insurance

If you are relocating to the UK, you don’t need private medical insurance, unless you have a specific reason to not use the NHS. Bear in mind, that if you decide to get treated privately, but don’t have private insurance, it can be quite expensive, particularly for serious conditions.

You may decide that the right course of action for you is to take out health insurance or supplement public care with a private policy. However, how does health insurance work? If it is not offered to you as part of your employee benefits package, and you can afford it, you might want to consider it, as it will allow you to choose the level of care you get, and how and when it is provided. As a general norm, private hospitals and specialist clinics have much shorter waiting lists and better infrastructure, but costs can be rather high.


UK residents usually only have private health insurance for one of the following reasons:


  • their company provides it as part of an employment package;
  • they want to avoid waiting times;
  • they want to have more control over the medical treatments they receive.


Cost of Private Health Insurance

Even though the actual price you will end up paying depends on numerous factors, just to give you an idea, the average price of a premium for private health insurance is £1,450 per year ($1,900).