If you are planning a move to the UK, then there are many things that you will need to consider. One important factor is the availability of healthcare in the UK.
If you are embarking on a move to the UK for work or family reasons, or even for a change of lifestyle, then there are lots of things to research.
In addition to the priorities of finding a job and somewhere to live, there are other important points to consider.
If you have a family, then you are probably considering schools. You may be commuting to and from a city centre and checking out transport options.
One thing you absolutely must research though is healthcare in the UK. You need to know what is available to you upon your arrival, how to register with a doctor, what, if any healthcare costs there are and any other important information.
In this article we look at the all of these points and explain what you need to know:
The national healthcare system in the UK
It has to be said that the UK has one of the best national healthcare systems in the world. The system known as the NHS (National Health Service) is available to all citizens of the UK and in many circumstances, those travelling or relocating.
For residents of the UK with an NHS number, treatment is free (some exceptions apply). Whilst there are long waiting lists for non-emergency operations or procedures, the treatment provided is of a high standard.
You can pay for private treatment, but this is costly. It will, however, ensure that you get seen quickly.
You can be confident though that healthcare in the UK includes emergency treatment for everyone.
How is healthcare in the UK financed?
The healthcare system in the UK is financed by tax and National Insurance.
For those who are more familiar with social security, National Insurance is the UK version of it.
Whilst national insurance contributions are intended to boost the NHS funding, around 80% of it is paid for by general tax.
In addition to tax and NI, there is an element that is funded by charges. In the UK patients are liable for dental treatment, prescriptions and glasses. There are some exemptions to this which include children, pregnant or nursing mothers, people on low income and pensioners.
Each year NHS spending is reviewed by the government and re-adjusted as necessary.
Cost of healthcare to citizens
Healthcare in the UK is free to all citizens. This includes doctors’ visits, referrals, consultations, operations and other medical treatment.
If you need to see a dentist or optician, then there are charges for this.
The charges for dental treatment are much cheaper than paying privately as they are subsidised by the NHS.
The system pays the dentist for a proportion of the treatment that the patient isn’t charged for.
Prescriptions are charged per item. Some items are exempt like contraception, and those that are on a low income, under 16, pregnant, etc. also do not have to pay for prescriptions.
If you prefer to go private, you can pay for treatment and often be seen quicker. There is also the option to choose healthcare insurance which will cover most treatments.
Availability of healthcare for new residents
When you arrive in the UK as an expat, you are immediately entitled to emergency medical treatment. You have to register for an NHS number though to be able to register with a GP (General Practitioner).
A GP should be your first port of call for non-emergency appointments.
Now for those travelling from other countries, the UK does have reciprocal agreements with countries like Australia and New Zealand to receive emergency medical treatment whilst there.
Residents from EU countries are also entitled to treatment on the NHS without being liable for payment.
How to use the service
To use the NHS is quite straightforward for expats. Once you arrive in the UK, you will need to register for an NHS number before you can see a doctor.
If you arrive in the UK from the EU and have an EHIC card, then you are eligible for medical treatment at no charge. You can apply for an EHIC card here.
If you are from outside of the EU, it is important to check if there are any bi-lateral agreements with your country of origin.
If you are a new resident in the UK and plan on staying there then you need to follow these steps:
- Make an appointment at your local social security office
- Undergo an interview and fill in the relevant paperwork
- Receive your NHS number within approx. two weeks
- Register and make an appointment with a GP
Your GP is the first port of call for all treatment unless it is an emergency. If you have a non-emergency problem that you would like advice or diagnosis for then, you need to make an appointment with your GP.
If you have a medical emergency, then you should call 999 or the European number, 112.
There is also 111 which can be called if you need to see a doctor out of hours.
If you decide to make your own way to the local A&E – Accident and Emergency department, then you could face a long wait, but every patient is assessed when they arrive on a triage system.
Do you need to take out insurance?
The NHS is available to all
For many, there is no need to take out medical treatment. The NHS is available to all.
Though there are circumstances when people prefer to take out health insurance. The NHS waiting times are well reputed to be quite long. Of course, emergencies are dealt with swiftly, but non-emergency treatments or operations can have quite long waiting lists.
Seeing a GP can sometimes be more difficult than you would like. You usually have to phone up at 8am on the day to get an appointment. If you need an appointment quickly, you could be made to wait.
Some people get private healthcare insurance as part of their employment contract although it is not obligatory for UK companies.
Others prefer to take out their own insurance. If you are considering healthcare insurance, then there are many to choose from. It is worth checking out more than one provider as the costs and benefits can vary greatly.
Don’t leave it to chance if you have a pre-existing medical condition. Although the NHS system caters for almost everything if you have a particular medication that you need to take, make sure it is available to you in the UK.
Once you arrive, make sure you apply for your NHS number and get registered with a doctor as soon as possible to allow you access to the full service.