This page presents the different types of medical coverage possible for a resident of the United Kingdom:
be covered only by the British public healthcare system (the NHS), be covered by the NHS and add local private health insurance as a supplement, and be covered by international health insurance.
The United Kingdom consists of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The NHS operates in these four countries but with differences. Our guide below focuses on Norfolk in England, but the advice you will read below is valid for the whole of the UK.
Whether you want to live in England or somewhere else in the UK, find out about the different medical coverage options available to you.
- Total population (2017): 65.6 million inhabitants
- Gross national income per capita (2013): PPP international $35,760
- Life expectancy at birth (2016): 80/83 years
- Mortality ratio 15-60 years m/f (2016): 81/52 per 1000
- Total health expenditure per capita (2014): International $3,377
- Total expenditure on health (2014): 9.1% of GDP
* Source: WHO
The National Health Service (NHS)
Public health insurance benefits in England are provided by the NHS. The NHS is free (except for medical prescriptions, dental and optical) and anyone residing in the UK is entitled to it.
The British are very attached to their health system. However, in several aspects, the NHS does not correspond to the needs of several individuals:
- The consultation time with the general practitioner is considered to be too short (the consultation duration is ten minutes on average) and in general only one medical problem is treated per consultation.
- It is necessary to be recommended by the general practitioner to consult any specialist including the gynaecologist and the paediatrician.
- Waiting times can be several weeks or even months to see a specialist or be admitted to the hospital.
- The quality of care and treatment you receive may depend on where you live.
- Common rooms in the hospital lack privacy.
The National Health Service (NHS) provides public health insurance benefits in the four countries of the United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Funded by tax, the NHS has the same core values and operating principles across the UK.
But with the decentralization of the NHS in 1999, the four countries adopted different health policies and implemented their reforms.
In addition, the funding is not distributed for the four countries but each country funds the NHS on its territory.
Almost twenty years after the decentralization of the NHS, there are today differences in the functioning of the NHS according to the countries.
Access to the NHS
Anyone can get treatment at the NHS.
If you have UK resident status, you have free access to the NHS, regardless of your employment status. If you are European and you are in the United Kingdom for a temporary or tourist stay, you can access the NHS using your European health insurance card (be careful, this only gives access to emergencies and unplanned care ).
If you are a temporary resident or a tourist from a country outside the European Economic Area, you must pay a health tax to access the NHS.
Registering with the NHS
Membership in the NHS is not automatic. You must first register with an NHS medical practice (NHS surgery) located near your place of residence or work and provide your British tax number (national insurance number) as well as proof of address.
Some medical offices may also ask you for identification.
If you’re travelling from one area of the UK to another, you can still visit any NHS doctor’s practice (and you can register there as a temporary patient for up to three months ).
Consult a General Practitioner (GP)
The GP (NHS GP) is the first point of contact for patients with the NHS. All patients must go through the general practitioner to be able to see a specialist doctor, including a gynaecologist or a paediatrician.
The objective of this system is to control public health expenditure and to guarantee the efficiency of the system by ensuring that patients only consult specialist doctors if it is medically necessary.
The average duration of a consultation with the GP in the UK is ten minutes. Doctors can ask patients to mention only one medical problem per consultation.
It is, therefore, preferable to make a double appointment which will allow several medical problems to be discussed at once.
Only the NHS is authorized to treat all types of medical emergencies. The responsiveness is generally good and the services excellent.
Some private clinics treat certain minor problems in emergencies, but you will have to go to the NHS for serious emergencies.
If you are being treated in the emergency room of an NHS hospital which has a private wing and you need to be admitted to the hospital following your treatment received in the emergency room, you can ask to be transferred to the private wing of that same hospital.
So you can benefit from your international coverage. However, this would not be possible with local insurance that only covers planned care.
Take out private health insurance in England in addition to the NHS
It is possible to take out private health Insurance in England or elsewhere in the United Kingdom (locally called private medical insurance or PMI) to overcome the main disadvantages of the NHS.
Private medical insurance (PMI) is traditional medical insurance, a kind of complementary that works in association with the NHS.
A PMI covers you in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland and sometimes may include the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
Having a PMI makes it possible to avoid waiting times to consult a specialist or for admission to the hospital where the stay can be made in more comfort.
This type of insurance, often less expensive than health insurance for foreigners working in Norfolk, may be suitable for those who are generally satisfied with the NHS but who still wish to avoid the most significant inconveniences and accept that they can only be treated at the UK.
Many companies provide health insurance to their employees. However, for many expatriates in Norfolk, English-type health insurance does not always meet their needs:
This type of health insurance does not cover consultations with private general practitioners, maternity, dental, optics, and medication.
To be able to consult a specialist in the private sector (paediatrician, gynaecologist, etc.), you must always go through the NHS general practitioner.
Dental and optical are not covered. Dental and optical insurance can be added but the reimbursement ceilings are low.
Follow-up for recurrent or potentially recurrent illnesses is not covered (an exception is often made for cancer).
This type of insurance only covers you in the UK.
You can only consult specialist doctors who are members of your insurance company’s network.
These insurance policies apply a discount in the event of non-reimbursement requests, which means that your premiums will increase the following year if you have used your insurance.