Healthcare in the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is the home of the famous National Health Service which provides all British citizens with mostly free healthcare. As a non-UK citizen it is advisable that you are covered by health insurance at all times during your stay in the UK, at least until you qualify for UK citizenship.


The National Health Service was the first organisation in the world to provide free universal healthcare to the population of a nation. The idea was revolutionary for the time and it has now become part of British culture being both loved and vilified in almost equal measure.

Today, the NHS suffers from structural, staffing and service problems. Under the current conservative the crisis which almost crippled the service has now been resolved with standards and waiting times better than they previously were. Many wealthier Britons opt to use private healthcare, purchasing health insurance to ensure they get the best quality of care.

Who’s eligible?

The principal groups that the NHS provides free or subsidized medical treatment to are:

  • Those with the right of abode in Britain and who are currently resident in Britain (this excludes British citizens who are resident abroad).
  • Anyone who has been resident in the UK for the previous year.
  • EU nationals.
  • Students (on courses longer than 6 months).
  • Anyone with a British work permit.

Nationals of countries with reciprocal health agreements with Britain are also entitled to treatment from the NHS, although exemption from charges is usually limited to emergency treatment. Countries with reciprocal agreements include: EEA nations, Anguilla, Australia, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Bulgaria, Channel Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, New Zealand, Romania, Russia, St Helena, Switzerland, Turkey, and the Caicos Islands.

Private Healthcare

Private healthcare in the UK provides some of the best treatment in the world with private hospitals often providing the best equipment and care money can buy. The UK also attracts some of the world’s best specialist doctors. A quarter of all operations in the country is performed privately.

The difference between the skills of doctors in the private sector is miniscule when compared to those in the NHS. Most Doctors work for the NHS as well as private clinics. The main difference is the speed of treatment for example  a heart bypass operation may be diagnosed for and completed in a couple of weeks with private treatment, but through the NHS this could take two or three months.

To use private healthcare you will need to have suitable insurance with a specialist health insurer such as BUPA.

Doctors and Pharmacies

To register with a doctor you need to be a resident of the United Kingdom or else are eligible for healthcare. You will then have to go to your chosen GP surgery and register with the surgery. Information on your local GPs is often found in the Post office, tourist information centres and citizen’s advice centres. The same method applies to dentists.

Emergency numbers

The emergency number for the UK is 999. The ambulance service does not charge for its use. For less serious or non-life threatening incidents you should contact 101 for the police and 111 for the NHS.