In Great Britain, public health care is guaranteed by the National Health Services (abbreviation NHS and in German “Nationaler Gesundheitsdienst”). This public health service is under government administration and its services are free of charge except for certain minor fees. They include hospitals, general practitioners, specialists, dentists, ophthalmologists and ambulance services, among others.
Automatic access to subsidized or free services of the NHS – besides the British of course – EU citizens as well as everyone who has lived legally in Great Britain for at least a year. This also applies to students (with a minimum study period of 6 months) and holders of a UK work permit.
Great Britain has also signed bilateral health care agreements with a number of countries (including Switzerland). Citizens of these states can also use NHS services in an emergency.
How to get a health insurance card
First of all: You should process the application as soon as possible after your arrival, otherwise you will not enjoy any insurance cover.
You are only entitled to benefits from the NHS if you have a National Insurance Number. This number is requested from the responsible Social Security Office. To do this, you need to present your passport, an employment contract or proof of address. After successfully completing the formalities, you will receive your personal NHS card, which you have to show every time you visit a doctor or stay in hospital.
Cons of the NHS
There are many advantages to the provision of these public health services, but this health system, too, is far from perfect.
For example, you have to expect long waiting times in the event of illness, just registering with the family doctor can be a hopeless undertaking, as many family doctors no longer admit NHS patients due to the high workload.
Depending on the illness or treatment, high co-payments are to be expected, for example for the eye test and glasses, at the dentist / dentures, and sometimes when buying medication. Hospital care is also getting worse and worse, which is why many British people voluntarily take out private health insurance (take out health insurance).
Private health insurance
Private health care in the UK is some of the best in the world. Some globally recognized specialists also practice in London. Some employers offer an employee bonus program, i.e. discounted partner insurance. If you cannot take advantage of this bonus, but still want / need to take advantage of services that the NHS does not cover, you should take out additional private insurance.
Here are the advantages at a glance:
- No or hardly any waiting times
- Free choice of doctor and hospital
- Reimbursement of costs for specialists
- Assumption of costs for diagnostic tests and alternative treatments
If you want to get private health insurance, you should use a specialized health insurer (e.g. BUPA or PPP).
It is important to register with a local General Practitioner (GP) upon arrival in the UK. Addresses of doctors who speak your language can be obtained from your embassy / consulate.
Medicines and prescriptions
NHS prescriptions have a set fee. People under 16 years of age, retirees, disabled people, students and people on low incomes are exempt from this fee. Pregnant women and women who have given birth in the past year can receive medication free of charge.
Emergency patients in Great Britain are treated free of charge – regardless of solvency and nationality. Treatment will only be charged if you stay in hospital for more than one night and your home country does not have a health agreement with the UK.
Most emergency rooms are open 24 hours a day. You can call an ambulance on 999. Dentists are not required to treat patients, even in emergencies.