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How Healthcare Works in the UK

OSHCstudents – It is impossible to explain the UK healthcare system without drawing upon the history of the NHS. Launched in July 1948, it is known worldwide for being the first healthcare system funded by general taxation, which provides free care at the point of use. Moreover, it fully recognizes health as a right, meaning that free care is granted on the basis of need rather than the payment of fees or insurance. In simpler words, if you are relocating to the UK, you will have access to free healthcare via the NHS. Even though the standard of medical facilities is good, be warned: the waiting lists can be long, and your choices might be limited.

UK Healthcare Facts

  • Even though the NHS is often the target of criticism due to its long waiting times and increasing staff and supplies’ shortages, the Commonwealth Fund health thinktank carried out an analysis of healthcare systems in 11 rich nations. It found that the NHS is the best, safest, and most affordable.
  • If you are a UK resident, you are entitled to receive NHS care, but you can opt to pay for private healthcare or use a combination of both.
  • If you are an NHS patient, your main contact for health-related matters will be your GP (General Practitioner). The appointments with your GP are generally are quite short. They last between 8 and 10 minutes.
  • If you require more specific care, your GP will refer you to a specialist.

Does the UK have Free Public Healthcare for Non-residents?

Yes, but even though the UK has a free healthcare system that is regarded as one of the best in the world, it has faced challenges in recent years, mainly due to underfunding. There is also a smaller private sector available for those who want it and can afford it.

Which are the Pros and Cons of the UK Healthcare System?

In comparison to the NHS, patients report receiving a higher standard of care, which is probably due to a simple equation: patient numbers are lower and spending budgets are larger. As you can see, the UK healthcare system has advantages and disavantages you should consider if you are permanently relocating. In this case, you will be entitled to all the services provided by the NHS, reducing health care costs to a minimum. Should you decide to get private medical insurance anyway, you will certainly have faster access to specialists, better facilities and reduced waiting times.

What Does Public Healthcare Cover?

Everything from a doctor’s appointment to emergency surgery is free; however, dental and eye care treatments generally carry a fee. Healthcare is provided for non-residents, on the basis that they have not specifically traveled to receive free treatment. Everyone is entitled to free primary care services (e.g. GP consultation) or emergency treatments; however, you will need to be registered as an NHS patient in order to access secondary care services (e.g. specialists).

How Does the National Health Service Work?

Once you’ve registered with the NHS, a GP (general practitioner) is your first port of call for most medical issues. You have the legal right to choose your GP. You may go about this in different ways; for example, you can ask people you trust for recommendations or you can do research online. A GP practice cannot refuse you, unless they have reasonable grounds, such as not having capacity to take you on board. You can change practice if you wish, without providing any reasons. Registration is done at the GP by completing a GMS1 form.

In order to do this, you will need to provide the following documents:

  • Valid ID (e.g. passport, national identity card, etc.)
  • Proof of address (e.g. bank statement, utility bill, etc.)

What Services does the NHS Provide?

The NHS is very comprehensive, and as long as you are ordinarily a resident (live in the UK lawfully, settled, and voluntarily). It entitles you to the following free services:

  • consultations with your GP and nurse;
  • treatment at accident and emergency (A&E);
  • treatment for minor injuries in clinics;
  • maternity services;
  • sexual health services and contraception;
  • if referred by your GP, treatment with a specialist.

With some exemptions (e.g. people with chronic illnesses, cancer sufferers), patients are required to pay for:

  • prescriptions;
  • dental care;
  • eye care;
  • wigs and fabric supports.

UK Healthcare Costs

Even though prescriptions are paid, they have a fix priced, regardless of the type of medication or the quantity you require per treatment. The current prescription charge is 9 GBP per item (11.50 USD). In the UK, pharmacies are commonly called chemists. The major chain is Boots, but many supermarkets have them in their premises. There also many online alternatives, such as Lloyds Pharmacy and Chemist Direct.

All ordinary UK residents are entitled to hospital treatment. However, if it’s not an emergency then your GP or a qualified healthcare professional must refer you. Emergency services are free of charge for everyone, including non-residents. However, non-residents will need the relevant health insurance to access non-urgent free hospital care (primary care) in NHS hospitals in the UK.

Once you are registered with a GP, you will be able to book consultations for free. It is unusual to get a same-day appointment.

You will usually be able to book or change an appointment directly at your GP practice in three different ways:

  • online;
  • via phone;
  • in person (you can directly schedule an appointment at reception).

Other Health Services in the UK

Even though for medical matters your GP will usually be your first port of call, you may not need to go to the doctor for some minor ailments. There are health services in the UK for that don’t require an appointment and could be able to help you.

  • Pharmacists are trained professionals who are qualified to give advice on minor conditions that do not require a prescription (e.g. sore throats, stomach aches, minor burns).
  • If you have an urgent medical issue, which is not life-threatening call NHS 111, where you will be able to speak to a trained adviser who will instruct you on what to do next.
  • If you visit 111.nhs.uk and answer questions about your symptoms online, you will be advised on an appropriate course of action, depending on your circumstances.
  • Sexual health services are free and available to everyone. You do not need to be registered for a GP or give any information if you do not wish to. Visit any sexual health center to get tested for sexually transmitted infections and/or for contraception advice.

OSHCstudents (source: InterNations)

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