Access to healthcare
Find out whether you or your family are entitled to free medical treatment in the UK and the EU, and how to access relevant information and services.
While in the UK you will be able to receive healthcare from the National Health Service (NHS) but you may have to pay for some or all of this, depending on your residency status and how long you have lived in the UK.
If you are just visiting the UK it is advisable to either to have medical insurance or, if you are from the European Economic Area (EEA), a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) (see below). Even if you are a UK national, but have lived abroad for several years, you may need some form of medical insurance.
If you are living lawfully in the UK as ‘ordinarily resident’ and from an EEA country or Switzerland, then you will have the same access to healthcare as a UK citizen, and will be exempt from healthcare charges. The same applies if you are from a country with which the UK has a reciprocal bilateral agreement, such as Australia, New Zealand or Russia. If you are from a country outside the EEA or Switzerland which does not have a reciprocal agreement, you will need to provide proof of your reason for being in the UK, such as a work or study visa.
If you are on a work or study visa you will be entitled to free NHS treatment and care. You will still have to pay for prescription charges unless you are exempt from these, or living in Wales where prescriptions are provided for free.
Even if you are just visiting, and not 'ordinarily resident’ in the UK, you are entitled to free emergency treatment at a GP practice, a hospital Accident and Emergency department or a walk-in centre. Subsequent treatment as an in-patient or outpatient will not be free. Family planning services and treatment for certain communicable diseases are also exempt from charges (excluding HIV/AIDS where only the first consultation for diagnosis and counselling is free).
You can find out more information about eligibility rules for overseas visitors on the UK Department of Health website and on the NHS website, including the revised guidance on overseas visitors.
See also the UKBA website on rights and responsibilities while in the UK with regard to healthcare.
If your family are only visiting the UK then they are not entitled to free treatment and must have private medical insurance or a European Health Insurance Card. However, if they have come to live with you permanently, they are considered ‘ordinarily resident’ and are therefore entitled to free NHS treatment.
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles you to reduced-cost, sometimes free, medical treatment that becomes necessary in a European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland, and lasts for 5 years. If you are ordinarily resident in the UK you can apply for a UK issued EHIC card, but there are some restrictions to healthcare cover, depending on your nationality. For more information and to register online for an EHIC card, visit the NHS EHICwebsite.
You can find your nearest GP at the NHS websites for England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. To register you will need to undergo a brief medical check and may need to show details of your medical history. You will be given an NHS number, which will then be used to keep track of your medical history. If you decide to switch GP you should provide details of your previous GP, and your NHS number.
In case of a medical emergency you should call 999 or 112 (the standard emergency number in Europe) and ask for the ambulance service.
If you are uncertain whether it is an emergency situation or not, you can call NHS-Direct for advice on 0845 4647.
The NHS-direct website has information on various health issues in several different languages, including Arabic, Bengali, French, Gujarati, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Somali, Spanish, Turkish and Urdu.
If you need to go to hospital for treatment in England you have the right to choose which hospital you go to. The Care Quality Commission publishes information about the performance of healthcare organisations in England, including both NHS and private organisations. You can visit their website to find out how hospitals in your area have performed on issues such as waiting lists, cleanliness and standard of care. You could also look at the Dr Foster website, which has a very user friendly database of healthcare services.
For similar services in the other countries of the UK, you can visit the websites for the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority in Northern Ireland, and NHS Quality Improvement Scotland.
There are private healthcare providers in the UK, and many NHS practitioners also perform services for private patients. These services are more expensive than treatment on the NHS and are often paid for through private medical insurance schemes. However, in some cases this allows patients to obtain treatment earlier than they would have been able to on the NHS.