One of the most complicated and confusing topics in the UK is, without a doubt, healthcare - especially for those that come to this country from abroad. In this article, we’ll tackle everything you need to know about the NHS, the EHIC card, health insurances, how to get a doctor in the UK, and much more.

What is the NHS?

One of the most common three letters associated with the words ‘UK healthcare’ are definitely the letters N H and S. But what do they mean?

National Health Service (NHS) is the world’s largest health services, funded completely by the public. The idea behind it comes from the mission to make healthcare available for everyone, regardless of your financial status.

More than 60 million people in the UK use the service and it deals with over 1 million people every 36 hours. Due to its size and service demands, the NHS is also known as the top 5 of the world’s largest workforces.

Is NHS really 100% free?

Many people are still surprised when they hear that the UK residents can get the majority of their healthcare treatments for free. But that doesn’t apply to everything. The cost of other treatments depends on your condition as well as the treatment itself.

The NHS does charge for:

  • Prescriptions
  • Travel costs
  • Dental care
  • Eye care

While the NHS does also offer therapy and psychotherapy treatments, it’s important to note that you might have to wait a while before those treatments first become available. Due to the wait, many people choose private therapy services or opt out for a health insurance plan, which we’ll tackle in just a little bit.

Can you use the NHS as a EU citizen?

In order to use the NHS services as a EU citizen, you’ll have to present your GP practice with an European Health Insurance Card (EHIC card). You can order this card for free and have it delivered to your home address.

The EHIC card also gives you the right to access healthcare during your temporary stay in another European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland. However, it’s still recommended to purchase travel insurance.

The EHIC card covers the following treatments:

  • Medical and accident-related treatments
  • Long-term conditions
  • Routine maternity care

You cannot access private medical treatment with the EHIC card.

Can you use the NHS as a non-EU citizen?

Technically yes. Any non-EEA national will have to fill out a visa application - you can use the NHS services if you pay the NHS surcharge during that process.

Non-EU citizens will also have to pay the costs of their non-urgent treatments in advance. Failure to pay will have an effect on your immigration application as well as refusal to receive the treatment.

You may be exempt from the following NHS charges:

  • Visits to the A&E (excluding treatments that require hospital admission).
  • Family planning services (excluding termination of pregnancy)
  • Treatment of infectious diseases, including STIs
  • Treatment of a physical or mental condition caused by torture, violence or mutilation (not applied if you come abroad for the sole purpose of the treatment)

How to get a doctor in the UK

The process of getting a GP in the UK is fairly simple. You can find a GP service through the official NHS website and either register online or in person. You’ll also need to fill out the GMS1 form, which is available to download here - the form will also be given to you at your chosen GP practice.

It’s recommended to register with a practice that’s located close to your home. Registering outside of your area is allowed, however, the practices often prioritise residents living close to the facility.

You don’t legally require any documents to register with a GP, however, it’s best to have your EHIC card, your passport, and proof of your home address ready on your first visit.

Do you still need a private health insurance in the UK?

This depends on each individual and their condition. It’s important to note that for serious treatments, the waiting time at the NHS might vary and having a private health insurance would allow you to access the treatment you need faster.

A private health insurance also takes care of the following:

  • Dental care
  • Eye care
  • Specialist referrals
  • Scans
  • Private treatment rooms
  • Specialist drugs and treatments
  • Physiotherapy
  • Quick access to psychotherapy

While millions of UK residents rely on the NHS, many also utilize private health treatments for serious conditions. Whether you need private healthcare completely depends on your own needs and lifestyle.

And that's all you need to know about UK's healthcare!

For any future questions, visit the official NHS website.

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