Healthcare in Edinburgh

healthcare in edinburghExpats will have options for private and public healthcare in Edinburgh.

Public sector services are provided by the National Health Service (NHS) Scotland. All citizens and residents are eligible for enrolment in this system; as funded through deductions from salaries. In short, no payment is required for doctor or hospital visits.

Private healthcare is also available, though it can be prohibitively expensive and the elevated standard of complimentary public care leads many expats to forego this excess cost.

Public healthcare in Edinburgh (NHS)

While plagued with some controversies, the NHS is generally efficient and provides high quality care. Expats will find that the waiting times for appointments are generally shorter than in England; often you can even book a same day appointment. Overall, though some systematic red tape can cause irritation, the NHS Scotland is quite caring and expats who have never benefited from nationalised healthcare can be pleasantly surprised.

How to use the NHS Scotland

Once you have found accommodation in Edinburgh, you’ll need to register with a “surgery”, the term for a General Practitioner’s (GP) practice. If you aren’t sure which surgery or surgeries serve your area, visit to find practices in your area. In order to register expats will need to provide the following:
  • Your name
  • Proof of your address
  • Nationality
  • Medical History
  • You may be asked for proof of residency or a copy of your visa
You may only register with one surgery, but are given the option to choose from any serving your area.  Once registered, you will be given an NHS number and obtaining an appointment is quick and easy.

Making an appointment

If you need to see a doctor quickly, call the surgery at 8am to request an appointment on the same day.  If you want to schedule an appointment at a later date, call during opening hours and you’ll generally be able to schedule within two weeks time.

The NHS in England tends to have much longer waiting times for general doctors visits.

Once at the appointment, you may have to wait up to 30 minutes, but no longer.  Many times you will not have to wait at all, so it is very important to be punctual.  Your GP or a nurse will serve as your initial point of contact for the medical concern you have.

If your complaint requires specialist care, your GP will make a referral.  If this happens, you do not need to call the specialist yourself. Your GP will contact the specialist and you will be sent an appointment in the mail. This process generally takes approximately 2-4 weeks, and if the appointment is not convenient the letter will include the information you need to reschedule. It is essential that you do reschedule and not simply miss the appointment as this can cause you to forfeit future referrals.

Emergency care in Edinburgh

healthcare in edinburghIf you have an after hours medical need you can call NHS24 at 08454 24242. A nurse will be available to speak to you regarding medical care and advise if you should make your way to the hospital.
There is also a Minor Injuries Clinic at Western General that operates from 9am to 9pm every day. This is for minor injuries only (sprains, etc) and if you’re in any doubt as to where to go, it would probably be best to go to the Accident and Emergency (A&E).
The A&E Department at the Royal Infirmary is for all emergency and urgent medical needs. Waiting times can be surprisingly brief, but do come prepared to sit before service.  If your need is exceptionally urgent and/or life threatening you should call 999 (the emergency line number) and request an ambulance.

Helpful facts about public healthcare in Edinburgh

  • GYN exams occur here once every 3 years. You will receive a notice from the NHS when it is time to schedule your GYN exam.
  • Medical care here may be much less “luxurious” than expats may be used to. Still, while the experience may be different, the quality is generally good. Some things to be prepared for:
    • you will generally not be given a gown to wear during examinations
    • here are no stirrups for a pelvic exam
    • you may never see a doctor during your appointment time
    • you’ll probably never be weighed, measured or have your blood pressure and pulse checked
    • doctors can seem a bit rushed, especially at the larger practices, but they will take the time to listen to you and are generally very personable
As everywhere, there are good experiences and bad ones. If you aren’t happy with the outcome of an appointment, it is good (and perfectly ok) to be persistent in asking for more time, another appointment, to speak with another GP in the practice, etc. If you don’t feel your problem has been solved properly, you should advocate for yourself, just as you would elsewhere.

Those who take ownership of their NHS experience are generally more satisfied than those who fail to educate themselves.

Filling prescriptions

If you are prescribed medication you will need to take your prescription to your local chemist to have it filled. Chemists will generally fill prescriptions within a couple of hours and the charge is £5.00; although, if you are a minor, pensioner, pregnant, on job-seekers allowance, or have a chronic condition your medications will be free. You will need to prove your eligibility for any of the exceptions and fill out an application.  You will then be sent a card proving your status.
Be aware that some of the over-the-counter medicines you may be used to finding will not be available over-the-counter here. Some are simply not carried and others will need a prescription.

If you are looking for Tylenol, you’ll need to ask for paracetamol.

Also be careful if you’ve brought medication from overseas - check to make sure you’re not accidentally combining drugs that both contain Tylenol and paracetamol without realising it!

If you are looking for something specific any pharmacist should be able to help you find it or a suitable alternative.

Dental and eye care

Dental care in Scotland is offered both privately and through the NHS. In order to take advantage of free and discounted dental care you must register with a dentist. Be sure to specify that you want to register under the NHS. All NHS dental examinations in Scotland are free.

If you “go private” you will pay for examinations. Do not be surprised if your examination does not include cleaning - sometimes it will, other times it will not. The examination is basically a check-up; the dentist will take a look and make sure everything looks fine. To get a cleaning, expect to pay around £10 for a basic service, £25 for something more thorough. Your dentist will inform you if you need further work, and let you know how much it will cost.

Children under 18 receive free dental care as do women who are pregnant or have had a baby within the last twelve months.
Eye examinations (including an eye sight and eye health testing) are provided annually and are free of charge. You can get these at any optometry office or eyeglass store, such as Boots, Black and Lizars, and Optical Express.

If you are having problems with your eyes, you can contact the optometrist directly or walk into one of these stores and request an appointment.  You may be referred to the Eye Pavilion  where you will receive specialised eye-care.

You may be able to get some reduction in the cost of your eyeglasses, or contacts. Ask in the store for more details.

European Health Insurance Card

In order to access medical care (free or at a reduced cost) while travelling within the EEA, you’ll want to get an EHIC card. To do so, you’ll need to have your NHS number, which you can get from your GP’s office after you have registered.
Visit the official NHS site to download the free application, there is no charge associated with this process; if you find a site that attempts to charge you, you are not at the official site.

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the United States
Rebecca Manor is an American expat who moved to Edinburgh in 2007 with her husband.  Inspired by this gorgeous city,...

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