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Healthcare in the UK

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 26 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Healthcare In The Uk

Legal residents of the UK are entitled to receive free healthcare from the National Health Service (NHS). Treatment provided by the NHS is likely to cover most health requirements. However, there are other sources of healthcare available in the UK and residents may use these alone or in combination with NHS healthcare.

The National Health Service

The NHS was introduced in 1948 to provide free healthcare to all UK residents. Treatment and services are free at source and available to all regardless of their means. To be eligible a patient must be a resident of the UK – they need not be a British citizen. Indeed, a British citizen who is resident abroad may not be entitled to free healthcare. It is up to the doctor or hospital providing treatment to ensure that the patient meets the eligibility criteria. Some treatments, such as those provided in an accident and emergency department or family planning services, are free to all regardless of residence status.

NHS treatment may be provided by a number of different practitioners – depending on the individual’s needs. The first point of contact will usually be a local General Practitioner (GP) who will provide day-to-day medical care and services, and will also be able to refer a patient to a specialist consultant if needed.

Most people have to pay a prescription charge for the majority of medications that are prescribed by an NHS doctor. However, some people are entitled to free prescriptions – often because of their age or because they are on a low income. In addition, some medications – such as contraception – are available to everyone at no charge.

Private Healthcare

Many of the healthcare services provided by the NHS are also available to fee-paying patients. Most NHS hospitals have provision for private patients and some hospitals only provide private healthcare. An NHS GP may refer a patient to a private consultant if the patient is willing and able to pay for their services. This will usually mean that an appointment will be available more quickly than it would be through the NHS. Many consultants have both an NHS and a private practice.

A wide range of health insurance policies are available to those who wish to cover themselves for the costs of any private medical fees they may incur. At one end of the scale an insurance policy may cover almost any type of treatment, including complimentary therapies and dentists; at the other end of the scale the insurance may only cover emergency treatments or cover the expense over a certain amount which the patient agrees to pay themselves. Naturally the cost of private health insurance will vary in accordance with the level of cover provided.

Some employees may receive private health insurance as one of the benefits of their employment.

Children’s Health

Children in the UK will usually receive a course of immunisations to protect them, and the wider community, from a range of diseases. The programme of immunisation generally starts in a child’s first months of life and continues into their teenage years. A child born in the UK will be monitored by health officials to ensure that they receive the appropriate healthcare at each stage of their development and that they are attaining the expected growth and development targets.

Children who come to the UK with their parents should be registered with a local GP who will be able to offer advice on any health concerns or requirements the child may have.

Mental Health

The NHS provides comprehensive treatment for mental health issues. The local GP will often be the first point of contact for an individual who has concerns about their own, or a family member’s, mental health. The GP will either be able to provide treatment for the problem or refer the individual to the appropriate healthcare provider.


Many dentistry services are available through the NHS, however, the number of dentists who provide NHS services is limited and there may be a long waiting list for services or even just to register with a dentist. There may still be a charge for a dentist’s services when supplied by the NHS. Some people, including those under 18 or who are in receipt of income-based benefits, may be entitled to receive treatment at a reduced cost or for free.

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