If you’re thinking of moving to the UK, you’ll need to know a few basics to navigate the British healthcare system. In this article, we will provide you with information about the NHS, health care in the UK, health insurance, and more.
How Does The UK Healthcare System Work?
The health system in the United Kingdom offers free, taxpayer-funded health care to all people living in the United Kingdom (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) through the NHS (national health service). However, you can also access the private healthcare system which many people in the UK choose to do.
Public health care in the UK is funded by taxpayers and is regarded as one of the best, safest, and cheapest health care systems in existence. You may be wondering why you should consider private health insurance on top of what the NHS offers.
While it is true that many NHS services are free and accessible to both UK residents and visitors, many other services are not covered. 10.5% of the UK population also have private health insurance, suggesting that the NHS has some flaws.
Can Foreigners Access The NHS?
The NHS is based on where you live, rather than your insurance. This means that all UK residents, including immigrants, can access NHS services free of charge. Currently, this includes residents of the European Economic Area (EEA) who have a European Health Card, although this may change after Brexit.
If you don’t have permanent residence in the UK, you may need to pay a health surcharge to access NHS services.
If you have not paid and do not have any health insurance, you will be charged 150% of the NHS standard rate for any treatment you require (unless your home country has a reciprocal health care agreement with the UK or you have an exemption).
What Does The NHS Cover?
The NHS provides all kinds of health care services free of charge, as long as you are considered a resident. This includes a wide range of medical conditions and treatments, such as:
- accident and emergency
- care services
- Chronic diseases
- hospital treatment
- maternity care
- Mental Health Services
- Minor injuries
- Specialized treatments
While most medical services provided by the NHS are free, there are some exceptions that you will have to pay for, including:
- Medication prescriptions cost £9.35 per item.
- Dental treatment, from £22.70 for examination, diagnosis, scaling, polishing, and preventive treatments, up to £282.20 for work such as crowns, dentures, and bridges.
- Eye exams range from £20-70 for single vision lenses to over £110 for other services.
- Wigs and fabric support cost from ~£30 for a surgical bra to ~£300 for a full, custom-made human hair wig.
- GP (general practitioner) services for the provision of certificates for a health insurance policy.
Some NHS services are available to everyone, including non-UK residents. These include:
- Emergency treatments (although there are health care costs for emergency surgeries) at NHS hospitals.
- Family planning services (excluding abortions and infertility treatment)
- Treatment of infectious diseases.
- Treatment of physical or mental conditions caused by torture, female genital mutilation, domestic violence, or sexual violence.
How To Access The UK Public Health System
If you are an NHS patient, the first place to go for most problems is your local doctor or GP (general practitioner). Once you’re registered with a GP, you can book consultations for free, either online via the NHS website, by phone, or in person. That said, you’ll rarely get a same-day appointment, and walk-in practices can be quite busy.
Appointments with the GP usually last around 10 minutes. They will give you a referral if you need specialized treatment. For emergency care, you can go directly to the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department of NHS hospitals.
Do You Need Private Health Insurance In The UK?
Travel insurance is generally only suitable for short stays and can often only be used for emergency treatment.
If you only plan to move to the UK for a holiday and do not plan to become an ‘ordinary resident’, then you will be considered an ‘overseas visitor’ and will be charged for all NHS services.
Given the cost of hospital healthcare, whether through the NHS or private clinics, you’ll want to have private health insurance to cover any potential costs.
A hip replacement, for example, would cost you between £8,500 and £16,500, depending on the hospital you choose.
This is probably why 75% of all private healthcare provided to UK patients is funded by private health insurance. Still, on the NHS, the average cost of a hip replacement is £11,315. Minor surgeries such as cataracts cost an average of £3-4,000 per eye.
If you intend to stay in the UK longer and sign up for free NHS healthcare, there are still a few reasons to consider taking out private treatment cover:
- If you think you may need treatment or service not covered by the NHS for free, such as dental care or specialist medicine.
- If you want to see doctors or specialists without the long waiting times of most NHS services (currently even longer due to coronavirus).
- If you prefer to choose which doctor or hospital to go to for any procedure or treatment, or even access medicines and treatments that are not usually available on the NHS.
- If so, you’ll likely want second opinions or more tests to make sure you’ve considered all of your options before getting treatment.
- If you want to have the peace of mind of knowing that you can receive a bed in a private hospital and have visited 24 hours a day.
In short, private health insurance allows immigrants to access UK private health care and have more control over their medical treatment needs.
Health Insurance Costs
Health insurance policies vary greatly in price because there are many individual factors to consider when evaluating a person’s health risk. However, some common factors will affect your cousins, such as your age, where you live, your current health, and your lifestyle.
Regardless of your age, it’s worth shopping around and upgrading your insurance provider if you move. This can affect your premium, especially if you leave London.
The level of coverage you want will influence how much you pay. Most insurers will initially exclude pre-existing conditions, so you’ll have to pay more for them.
Most policies will cover hospital treatment in full (services that require a hospital bed). It is the level of outpatient treatment that increases the cost of your policy, since it includes appointments for specialized treatments, such as physical therapy.
Health Insurance Plans
Comparison websites are a good starting point for exploring the many choices of health care providers and insurance companies. Here are some to review:
International Citizens Insurance, also has additional information on the process of choosing private health insurance and free personalized assistance if you request a quote.
Which? , a popular UK website for reviewing products and services.
ActiveQuot, a British company fully licensed and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), powers other comparison websites.
MediBroker, offers comparisons between international health care policies, with more than 100 different plans covered by 30 different insurers.