The health system in the United Kingdom

health in the UK

Are you intending to get a job London, settle in Bristol or study in Manchester? To get ready to live in Great Britain, learn about the health care system in the United Kingdom. Depending on your situation and specific needs, you will need to complete various administrative procedures to be sure to have access to quality heath cover.

The public health system

In the United Kingdom, heath care benefits are provided by the NSH (National Health Service). There are several different services: NSH England, NSH Wales, NSH Northern Ireland and NSH Scotland.

To benefit from NSH health care, all UK residents must see doctors under agreement with the NSH. To consult with a specialist doctor (consultant) or receive hospital treatment, people must be referred by their GP (General Practitioner). As public health care waiting lists sometimes are extremely long, many people living in the United Kingdom seek private medical care.

Cover provided by the NHS

NSH care is largely free of charge. UK residents are entitled to the following free services:

  • seeing a NHS GP,
  • receiving treatment in a hospital under agreement with the NHS.

Though you might qualify for free treatment in some situations, you will generally need to pay for:

  • dental care,
  • optical treatment,
  • glasses and contact lenses,
  • prescription drugs.

Health cover for expats in the United Kingdom

Your health care cover in the United Kingdom depends on your situation, the length of your stay and/or your nationality.

If you are European and will be living in the UK for less than a year
Before you leave, ask for an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card).

If you are going on secondment to the United Kingdom
During your assignment in the UK, you will continue to benefit from the Social security scheme of your home country.
To be fully reimbursed, EHIC or your home Social security often isn’t enough: applying for top-up health insurance for expats in the UK is recommended.

If you are settling in the UK
To benefit from the NHS, you must register with a GP in the area you live. You will usually need to complete the GMS1 form and show proof of identity and address. Once the registration process is finished, you will receive your NSH number. In some cases, patience is the rule: as some GPs do not accept new patients, you will sometimes need to contact several different doctors before you are able to register.

If you would rather seek private health care or are obliged to do so because of long waiting lists, your medical expenses will not be covered by the NSH. In this situation, expat health insurance in the United Kingdom is essential, as private care is very expensive. Nevertheless, you will be able choose your doctor and will not need to be referred by a GP to see a specialist doctor.

To find out more about the health system in the UK:

To find the nearest health care provider, search the NSH directory.

Date of publication Jul 22 2014