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National Health Service (NHS): How To Access Free Healthcare

By IntFormalities
Updated on August 13, 2023
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

The National Health Service (NHS) is a much-loved institution in the United Kingdom. Thanks to its public funding, this organisation ensures UK citizens and residents have free medical access and health coverage when they need it the most. If you are wondering what the NHS is and you want to find out more, this article is for you.

What is the NHS?
Anyone can access General Practitioner (GP) and accident and emergency (A&E) treatment for free at a hospital regardless of their immigration status. 

What Is the NHS?

The National Health Service (NHS) is the name given to the public healthcare system in the UK. Funded through taxes and NI contributions, the NHS provides free healthcare coverage to everyone.

What Health Services Are Free on the NHS?

Most of the NHS’s treatment is free. Services without any costs include:

  • Medical consultations with General Practitioners (GPs)
  • Hospital care which includes emergency services, surgeries, inpatient and outpatient care
  • Childbirth and maternity services
  • Mental health treatment, such as therapy services
  • Free or discounted dental treatments, depending on age and whether the person is claiming benefits
  • Prescription services in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales but only for certain people in England (under 18s, pregnant women, and pensioners). 

Some services are not free for everyone. This includes prescription, dental care, and optical services, such as eye tests and the cost of eyewear/glasses.

Who Can Access Treatment on the NHS?

The NHS is available in all the countries belonging to the UK, including England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Anyone who is an ordinary resident in the UK can access NHS treatment. That includes citizens of the country, people with indefinite leave to remain, and the right of abode.

People with the right to access medical treatment in the European Economic Area (EEA) can also access free treatment on the NHS through the European Health Insurance Card. Additionally, people from countries around the world with which the United Kingdom has a reciprocal arrangement are also eligible for free medical treatment.

Note that people with refugee status in the UK can also access treatment on the National Health Service.

Individuals with a work or student visa will have paid the immigration health surcharge with their visa application and, as a result, can receive free healthcare treatment. People who do not fall into any of these categories will have to pay for the cost of treatment.

Anyone can access a general practitioner (GP) and accident and emergency (A & E) treatment for free at a hospital regardless of their immigration status.  

How To Access Treatment on the NHS?

If it’s an emergency, an individual can visit the accident and emergency department (A&E) of the hospital in person. They can also dial 999; an operator will find out the issue and send an ambulance if required. Once at the hospital, immediate treatment is given for any noticeable emergency, such as a life-threatening accident. Other A&E attendees will be seen within a few hours of attending the hospital. 

For non-emergency illnesses and concerns, the first port of call is the person’s General Practitioner (GP). You can book an appointment by phone or online depending on your GP surgery. In the past, nearly all GP consultations were in person. But since the start of the Covid pandemic, many appointments now take place on the phone.

The GP will carry out the diagnosis, prescribe any medications, and refer the person to specialists or consultants at a hospital if required. Once a person has seen a specialist or consultant, they will advise and carry out the necessary treatments within the hospital system. 

There is also the NHS telephone number, 111. For immediate advice on non-emergencies, people can call this number. Finally, there is the NHS app through which people can access various services of the National Health Service.

How Can I Register with a GP?

Anyone in the country can register with a GP for free. To register, you must complete the GP’s registration form. You can get it in person at the chosen practice or online on the practice’s website. There is no need to provide identification, proof of address, immigration status, or NI number. However, although no forms of identification are required, the process may be easier if you can show your passport or birth certificate.

You can register with any GP, but registration may be refused if the practice is oversubscribed or your address is outside the boundary of the GP surgery.

Waiting Times

The waiting times are one of the negative aspects of the National Health Service. The time a person has to wait to be seen by their GP varies significantly. Some GP practices ask patients to call on the same day before 10 o’clock to book an appointment, which is often carried out over the phone. But only urgent cases would be seen on the same day. Most people have to wait a few days, while others take some weeks.

When hospital treatment is required and a person needs to see a consultant, the service is not immediate either. It can take a few months for patients to see a specialist and manage to book follow up visits. The only time immediate care is given is in scenarios with life-threatening conditions.

Private Health Care

Though the NHS is free of charge, private health care is also available in the UK as many people seek to shorten waiting times. Some well-known companies include Vitality, Bupa, and Axa Health. Those with private health insurance can access this service without additional costs, but the premiums are expensive.

In many instances, private health care occurs in the National Health Service hospitals and facilities. The good thing about private health services is that the person will get seen immediately.

A National Treasure

Many people in the UK look at the National Health Service in a favourable light. The NHS is not only one of the biggest employers in Europe but also one of the few providers to offer free health services for everyone in the country.

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