Healthcare in England is mainly provided by NHS, British's public health care system. It is the largest and oldest single-payer healthcare system in the world. Primarily funded through taxation, the system is available for legal residents of the United Kingdom.
General Practitioners (GPs) provide primary health care. Medical personal are well trained in the UK with high standards and world class facilities. If a patient needs further evaluation, they are referred to a specialist.
Health service is free in the UK as long as you use a GP or a NHS hospital. Therefore you don’t have money refunded and the medicines you need (and prescribed by the GP) are all sold at the default cost of £7.65 (from April 2012) with a prescription.
If you need to see a Specialist, you will have to ask through your GP who will give you a reference letter. Specialists can be very expensive but cost can be covered by a private medical insurance. However the private insurance must approve the cost before any further action.
Hospitals provide more specialist services, including care for patients with psychiatric illnesses. Hospitals also provide access to Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments (which provides also access to pediatric department).
If you have children, you won't be able to find pediatricians as well spread as in other countries. You will have to refer to your local GP and if a pediatrician is needed they will tell you to go to A&E where hospitals have got their pediatric section.
The major complaint about the UK health care system is wait times. If the GP judges the case to be extremely urgent, the doctor may by-pass the normal booking system and arrange an emergency admission with a specialist or consultant. Otherwise, the median wait time for a consultant led first appointment in English hospitals is a little over 3 weeks (for non emergency dental treatment such as braces for example, it can be up to 1 year with the NHS, to compare with a few weeks if you go private!).
The speed of in-patient admission is based on medical need and time spent waiting. More urgent cases are processed faster, though all cases are dealt with eventually. Only about one third of hospital admissions are from a waiting list. For those not admitted immediately, the median wait time for in-patient treatment in English hospitals is a little under 6 weeks. There is an effort to ensure an 18 week guarantee, meaning the hospital must complete all tests and start treatment within 18 weeks of the date of the referral from the GP.
To go to a doctor under the national plan, you should register with a local General Practitioner. NHS's website offers listings of local doctors. Asking friends, colleagues or neighbors for recommendations is always a good idea. Choose the GP practice you would like to go to and check that the practice covers where you live.
To see the doctor you are usually required to make an appointment. Many GPs also operate open surgery hours (when you can see the doctor without an appointment), which are typically from 9:00 to 11:00 on weekday mornings.
A NHS medical card or NHS number isn't strictly necessary to register with a GP or to get NHS treatment, but some GPs will send you a new NHS medical card.
European Card for Sickness Insurance
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) allows access to state-provided healthcare in all European Economic Area (EEA) countries and Switzerland at a reduced cost, or sometimes free of charge. The card can be used at any kind of health service while traveling (it replaces the previous E111 form and other European forms (E110, E119, E128) used for short term visits in European countries).
The pocket-sized plastic card is free and necessary to be able to claim any refund when you receive treatment abroad. Carry your EHIC with you at all times to prove you are entitled to healthcare. The card contains basic information such as the card holder's name and surname and date of birth, but no medical details.
Read our news article in order to get more information about the EHIC [EN].
Dentists are provided for under the national plan. To find a dentist in your area, register with a local NHS board. They will offer a list of local dentists who provide NHS treatment or you can visit them online at NHS Choices.
The quality of NHS dentistry can be lower than that of private dentistry. Regulations by the government have imposed cost and time restrictions to a negative effect. Unlike doctors, dentists are under no obligation to treat anyone, even in an emergency.
There is a standard NHS charge for dental check-ups ( from April 2011 charges are: £17: examination, diagnosis, advice on how to prevent future problems, a scale and polish... £47: fillings, root canal work... £204: crowns, dentures and bridges). People under 16, pensioners, pregnant woman, people on permanent disability, low-income, and students under 19 are entitled to free treatment.
When you are sick less than 4 days running (and off work), you don’t have anything further to do except recover. When you come back at work you should notify your employer that you were off sick and you will be paid as usual for the time absent (in some company they will ask you to do a 'self certificate').
For more than 3 days and up to 28 weeks in one spell of sickness, you can get SSP (Statutory Sick Pay) or claim for incapacity benefits. Ask your employer about SSP and contact your social security office for other benefits. You can also get more information from the Benefits Agency website:
With so much to deal with before leaving your home country, (taxes, moving house, paperwork etc.) the careful planning of your expatriation to London is an essential step. As far as healthcare is concerned, your local social security scheme won’t be accompanying you to your host country and, once abroad, you might be surprised by the care system you find in United Kingdom. So, before leaving, make sure you have appropriate cover!
EasyExpat.com works in partnership with APRIL International to provide specific insurance solutions for travelling or staying outside your country of nationality.
Designed for either short or long stays, APRIL International’s insurance policies offer protection against any problems that might arise before departure or during your time in United Kingdom: cancelling your trip, medical expenses following an illness or accident, needing to be repatriated, causing damage to a third party or losing your luggage.
For more information on expat health insurance in the United Kingdom, visit our partner APRIL International