UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is at the same time highly valued and often criticized by the English. It does offer free, comprehensive medical care but with restrictions. Not all medicines are covered and do expect to pay for some optical and dental services. Children under 16 years of age, and 16 to 18 year olds in full-time education are exempt from prescription charges.
General Practitioner services are free for all but you need to be a permanent resident or have lived in the UK for a year to get the full range of hospital treatment for free. You are also exempt from all hospital charges if you work for a UK-based employer or are self-employed in the UK, belong to diplomatic staff posted to the UK or you are a full-time student, whose course takes at least 6 months. In these cases your accompanying spouse and under 16 year old children are also exempt from hospital charges.
EEA nationals are recommended to bring with them their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
General Practitioners are family doctors. They look after their patients’ general health, give vaccinations and carry out simple surgical operations. In more complex health issues patients are referred to a hospital for tests, treatments or consultation with a specialist.
You can register with any GP practice as long as it serves your area and takes new patients. When choosing the practice consider its location, parking possibilities, opening times and reputation. You can also check how the practice has done in a voluntary Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF).
To register with a GP visit the practice to fill in a registration form. Take with you your passport and a proof of address, like a recent utility bill. As a parent, you can also register your children under 16 years of age on their behalf. Older children and your spouse need to sign their own registration forms.
If you need specialist care your GP will refer you to one in a hospital. You can choose the hospital, as long as it offers suitable treatment at NHS standards and costs. Care Quality Commission checks all hospitals in England to see that they meet national standards. After the consultation your specialist will inform your GP of the outcome and the possible treatment given to you. This way your full medical record and health history is kept in one place, with your GP.
If you feel that NHS’s services are not sufficient for your needs or you want more freedom of choice, you can see a private specialist. It is still a good idea to ask for your GP’s referral, since it will give your private consultant essential background information. Also many insurance companies require that your GP has referred you to a private specialist.
If your condition is not an emergency you can call NHS’s 111 number. You will be able to talk to a medical professional who will assess your symptoms and direct you to the right medical care for you.
If your condition is an emergency and you need A&E (Accident and Emergency) services, you can either call 999 for ambulance or visit a hospital with A&E department.
NHS provides dental care with reduced costs. Their services cover all common, necessary dental treatments. Even though you do need to pay for the service, the cost is much lower than if you would go private.
Unlike GPs, dentists don’t have catchment areas. Therefore, dental services are not tied down to your place of living. However, do check if the dentist of your choice provides NHS care. In theory, NHS dental services should be available to everybody. However, in some areas there are long waiting lists. If you cannot find a dentist that offers NHS care, contact NHS England. It is required to commission services for both routine and urgent dental care.
In general, adults need to pay for their sight test and classes. Adults with strong medical reasons, over 60 year olds, under 19 year olds in full-time education and children under 16 qualify for a free NHS funded test. Tests can be done at a local optician. Tell your ophthalmic practitioner if you are entitled to a free sight test.