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 services. All expats in the UK are entitled to free emergency treatment at all National Health Service (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 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. Clinics are for the most part basic, but are well equipped to complete preliminary medical check-ups and treat common illnesses.
Private hospitals in the UK tend to specialise in a particular type of care. The service at a private hospital tends to be better and patients will be seen to much quicker. However, the cost of treatment at private hospitals tends to be pretty high, so unless they have health insurance most people avoid going to private clinics if possible.

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

As an expat moving to the UK it is vital you register for your National Insurance Card; the formal documentation that allows you to utilise the NHS.
In order to do this, you must make an appointment, sit for an interview and fill out the necessary paperwork. You will then be assigned an NHS number, which is delivered via the postal service to your residence.
Once you receive this piece of information, you can apply at a local clinic within your postal code for a General Practitioner (GP); there are a number of clinics within each post code, and in addition to acting as normal doctor’s offices, they usually specialise in a particular area. Thus, do preliminary research and choose the clinic that best fits your medical needs as this GP will become your referral point for any treatment and will prescribe medicines to you.
Once you choose your clinic you register by completing the necessary paperwork and giving a blood and urine sample. From that point forward appointments are made in one of two ways. You either apply for a same-day appointment by calling at 8am in the morning, which is rarely successful. Alternatively, you can call and book an appointment for a date in the future. Technically you can demand to be seen within 48 hours but most likely your appointment will be in about a week. It is important to note that the long waiting lists are for doctor’s appointments; in the case of an emergency the NHS does treat patients speedily and efficiently.
If you register with your local NHS dentist, you get a 25 percent discount off dental treatment.
For a list of GPs call NHS Direct on 0845 4647 or visit their detailed website for a wide range of healthcare-related information.

Private healthcare in the UK

Private hospitals are plentiful and located throughout the country. However, some of the country’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 your specific health care needs.

Pharmacies and medicines in the UK

Pharmacies, or chemists as they are sometimes referred to in the UK, can be found on all major high streets and in shopping centres. 
Most medicines and prescriptions are easily available. If your medication is not available, pharmacies in most UK cities can have it ordered in within 24-48 hours. For certain types of medicine you will need a script, 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. 

Also, expats who are not entitled to free treatment under the NHS should look into health insurance options that will cover you for all routine medical care.

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 expats and provide immediate care to people with acute illnesses or injuries. 
Emergency calls should be made to 999 or 112. The operator will then dispatch an ambulance to your location. Alternatively, you can make your own way to the nearest hospital with an accident and emergency unit, for immediate treatment.  

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