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Discover how the system works in the UK

There are two healthcare systems in the United Kingdom: the public system and the private one. 

The public healthcare system, also known as the National Health Service (NHS) is administered by the State and is funded by taxes for the most part. It provides all citizens with free access to primary care (basic medical and hospital coverage).
You have to pay to access the private healthcare system; however it enables you to avoid the long waiting lists of the public system.

If you have been living in the UK for more than six months, you are eligible for the NHS. To this end, you need to go to the nearest Local Health Authority and fill in a registration form. You will then be issued a medical card with your NHS Number. 
If you are visiting the UK for a short stay as a European national, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will cover your medical expenses incurred in the public sector.

Private healthcare is very expensive in the UK which is why it is strongly recommended to take out Private Medical Insurance.

Visiting a doctor in the UK

British GPs
As there are only a few doctors in the United Kingdom, waiting times may be very long to consult a GP. Also, GPs may not accept you if you are a new patient. This is why it is recommended that you register on the patient list of the medical office (GP Surgery) located in your area as soon as you arrive in the United Kingdom even if you have not planned to receive medical care in the near future. 
The list of GPs in the United Kingdom is available from the Local Health Authority or directly on the home page of the NHS website which indicates if the GP accepts new patients or not.

It is often necessary to make an appointment before consulting. However, some GPs see their patients without prior appointment (in general from 9 am to 11 am during the week).

Specialist doctors
For specific medical care, your GP will refer you to a specialist doctor via the issue of a referral letter. For your first visit, you will have to wait for three weeks on average.
In the United Kingdom, specialist doctors can provide their services both in the public sector and the private sector. As a consequence, it is necessary to check the rates beforehand. A first consultation in the private sector costs £180 on average and between £130 and £150 for the next visits.
The medical report filled out by the specialist will then be transmitted to your usual GP surgery.

Being admitted to hospital in the UK

Waiting times for consultations in NHS hospitals are long and can take up to six weeks for planned hospitalizations. 
Most NHS hospitals have a private unit called private wing which ensures shorter waiting times and quality services (private room, etc.).

Please note: 
  • NHS hospitals with “private wings” are better equipped than private clinics. 
  • Major surgeries are always carried out in public hospitals. 
  • The price of a private room ranges from £600 to £1,200 on average. 

In case of emergency
Emergency services (A&E - Accident and Emergency) are open 24 hours a day but only in public hospitals. Waiting times are long but depending on the seriousness of your condition, you can be treated in priority.

Useful phone numbers:
  • Emergency phone number: 999
  • Paramedics: 114
  • Private ambulance: 426 88 88

Buying medication in the UK

Drugs prescribed by a doctor are delivered by a pharmacy or a chemist. 
They are covered by the NHS but you will have to pay a flat-rate charge of £7.65 per prescription (except in case of repeat prescriptions). This charge does not apply to children under 16, students under 19, retired people, pregnant women, disabled people, etc. 

Get your health insurance for the UK

MSH can help you design the best international health insurance plan to suit your needs.

Going for less than a year?  
We have the right health insurance plan to cover you for 1 to 12 months, whether it's for a personal project, an apprenticeship, a working holiday or any other reason.

Going for a year or more?
Explore our comprehensive and highly flexible health insurance solutions to protect you and your family while you're abroad.



United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland


Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Edimbourg, Glasgow, Liverpool




Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy


English (national), Welsh (official language in Wales), Scottish Gaelic (official language in Scotland), Scots (in Scotland), Cornish (in Cornwall) and Irish (in Northern Ireland)


UK on Wikipedia


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