Healthcare in the United Kingdom

Doctor giving young girl a shot
The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) is recognised as one the world’s leading health systems. All expats in the UK are entitled to free emergency treatment at NHS hospitals, but some expats will be liable for in-patient treatment and dental work, depending on where they are from. The UK has negotiated reciprocal healthcare agreements with a range of foreign countries, including Australia, New Zealand and members of the EU, meaning their citizens are exempt from healthcare payments. 
Expats looking to take advantage of the NHS should be prepared for long waits and hard-to-get appointments. 
Private hospitals in the UK tend to specialise in a particular type of care. Their services tend to be better and patients will be seen to much quicker, but the cost of treatment at private hospitals are pretty high, so most people avoid going to them unless they have health insurance.

Using the National Health Service (NHS) as an expat in the UK

Although emergency hospital treatment is free for anyone visiting the UK, expats must register for an NHS Number to be able to make an appointment with a general practitioner (GP) or dentist. GPs are the first point of contact for most people and can refer patients to other specialist NHS services.
In order to register for an NHS number, expats must make an appointment, do an interview and fill out the necessary paperwork. They will then be assigned an NHS number, which will arrive in the post within a couple of weeks. When an expat receives this piece of information, they can register at a local GP's surgery.
Once registered expats apply for a same-day appointment by calling at 8am, which is rarely successful, or book for a date in the future. Technically it is possible to demand to be seen within 48 hours but most likely the appointment will be in about a week. It is important to note that the long waiting lists are for doctor’s appointments; the NHS does treat patients speedily and efficiently in the case of an emergency.
Those who register with their local NHS dentist get a 25 percent discount on treatments.

Private healthcare in the UK

Private hospitals are plentiful and located throughout the country, but some of the UK's best specialists are located on Harley Street in central London.

Private healthcare and dental care in the UK can be expensive but do guarantee preferential treatment and, crucially, freedom from the long waiting lists that many NHS patients complain about. 
Many health insurance providers also offer international coverage for when expats travel back to their home country, or when travelling overseas in general. 
With the range of health insurance products on offer it is best to do a fair amount of research and comparison in order to find the best policy to suit each individual's healthcare needs.

Medicines and pharmacies in the UK

Pharmacies, or chemists as they are more commonly referred to in the UK, can be found on all major high streets and in shopping centres. 
Most medicines are easily available. If a certain type of medication is not available, pharmacies in most UK cities can have it ordered in within 24 to 48 hours. For certain types of medicine one will need a prescription from a GP, while others are available over the counter.

Expats will often find a pharmacy located close to a GP's surgery or hospital. Independent pharmacies are fast disappearing in the UK and being taken over by chains such as Boots and Superdrug, which sell beauty goods alongside health and medical products.  
Many pharmacies in the UK stay open till midnight. 

Health Insurance in the UK

Employers in the UK are not obligated by law to provide medical insurance to their employees. While some employers might make contributions towards private healthcare, in most cases expats will need to pay for their own health insurance.

International health insurance providers like Axa PPP, Bupa and Allianz provide a number of options to suit the various needs of expats moving to the UK. 

Pre-travel restrictions and vaccinations for the UK

No special vaccinations are required for expats moving to the UK. However, these routine vaccinations are recommended:
  • Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR)
  • Tetanus 
  • Diphtheria
  • Hepatitis B


Emergency medical services in the UK

Emergency medical services in the UK are provided free to all and provide immediate care to people with acute illnesses or injuries. 
Emergency calls should be made to 999. The operator will then dispatch an ambulance to the location of the incident. Alternatively one can call 111 when medical help is needed fast but it is not a 999 emergency. If it is less critical, expats can make their own way to the nearest hospital with an accident and emergency unit for immediate treatment.  

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