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United Kingdom (UK) - Health Service

The UK healthcare system was set up with the idea that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth. Regarding some charges, such as prescriptions, optical services and dental services, the NHS in England will charge a nominal amount for UK residents.

The NHS in England covers everything, including antenatal screening, routine screenings (such as the NHS Health Check), treatments for long-term conditions, transplants, emergency treatment and end-of-life care. Responsibility for healthcare in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales is divided into the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly respectively.

Who is covered?

Health coverage is universal. All people who are "ordinarily resident" in the UK are entitled to health care that is largely free at the point of use through the National Health Service. When it comes to the treatment in an emergency department and for certain infectious diseases, it is free to people not ordinarily resident, such as visitors. Most private hospital care is financed through supplementary private voluntary health insurance.

The entitlement to free NHS treatment for those who don't have it depends mostly on the length and purpose of their residence in the UK, regardless of nationality. They could be charged for some specific NHS services - for example, dental treatment - though they could be entitled to help with these charges. Any free NHS treatment that they receive, or any help with NHS costs, does not affect their immigration status. Those who are entitled to it can have free treatment immediately, because there is no qualifying period.

Those who don't meet the residence conditions and have to pay for it will be given clear information about charges in a way they can understand. This also includes giving information in a foreign language or via an interpreter, if necessary.

There are various counseling services that can provide help in foreign languages, such as Samaritans and Ikwro, which are disposable 24 hours per day. All services can be easily found online.

EEA and non-EEA citizens

People Living In An EEA Country Or Switzerland

People who live or work in another European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland get free NHS care using a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) issued by the country in which they live. In this case, the NHS reclaims healthcare costs from the original country of residence. UK state pensioners who live in the EEA have the same rights to NHS care as people who live in England. This applies to all pensioners who receive a UK state retirement pension and have registered for healthcare in Europe with an S1 form.

Other EEA or Swiss people who are not working and are under the UK retirement age should either use their EHIC if they’re entitled to one, or make sure they have health insurance if they need NHS care when visiting England. Otherwise they will have to pay for their care. This also applies to former UK residents.

People Living Outside The EEA

People who live outside the EEA, including former UK residents, have to make sure they are covered by personal health insurance. Anyone who does not have insurance will be charged at 150% of the NHS national tariff for any care received. The NHS price for a normal maternity birth is £2,188. For a major hip operation with an intermediate stay in hospital the charge is is £7,826. So for non-residents without proper insurance, to cover these would cost £3,282 and £11,739. Non-residents must also make sure their health insurance covers them while they are in the UK as well as in their expat location.

Using the National Health Service (NHS) as an expat in the UK

Even if emergency hospital treatment is free for anyone visiting the UK, expats must first register for an NHS Number to be able to make an appointment with a general practitioner or dentist. General practitioners are the first point of contact for most people and can refer patients to other specialist services. To register for an NHS number, expats must make an appointment, attend an interview and fill out the necessary paperwork. The NHS number will arrive in the post within a couple of weeks. Those who manage to register with their local NHS dentist get a 25 percent discount on treatments.

What are the different types of health insurance?

In the UK, there two types of health insurance: fully underwritten insurance and moratorium insurance. With underwritten health insurance, people have to give the full medical history to their provider. With a moratorium plan, people have to give limited information to their provider. A fully underwritten policy gives wider coverage, but is more expensive, while a moratorium policy is cheaper and comes with blanket exclusions on some pre-existing conditions. Some also have specialist policies, which are most important when the patient has to wait longer than six weeks for NHS treatment. Some policies are made specifically for people over 55, or have a special focus on one disease, such as cancer.

Contacting the health services

111 is the NHS non-emergency number, and is free. When calling 111 patients speak to a highly trained adviser, supported by healthcare professionals. They always ask a series of questions to assess the patient's symptoms and immediately direct them to the best medical care. NHS 111 is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Calls are free from landlines and mobile phones.

Sign language

NHS 111 offers a video relay service that allows people to make a video call to a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter. After that, the BSL interpreter calls an NHS 111 adviser on behalf of the patient and they are then able to have a real-time conversation with the NHS 111 adviser, via the interpreter. In these cases, a webcam, a modern computer and a good broadband connection are required.

When to use 111

People should use the NHS 111 service if they urgently need medical help or advice, but not for life-threatening conditions.

Call 111 if:

- you need medical help fast but it's not a 999 emergency
- you think you need to go to A&E or need another NHS urgent care service
- you don't know who to call or you don't have a GP to call
- you need health information or reassurance about what to do next

For less urgent health needs, it is recommended to contact a GP or local pharmacist. In some cases, health professionals give patients a specific phone number to call so they can access help quicker.

For immediate, life-threatening emergencies, call 999.

Healthcare progress in the UK

A major study on general health and common threats in UK found that Britain has fallen behind many Western countries on progress in managing preventable diseases.

The five most common diseases in the UK are heart disease, stroke, cancer, lung disease and liver disease.


In 2016, new laws were designed to change the lives of smokers and vapers across Europe. According to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) there are around 10 million smokers in the UK and a further 2.6 million use e-cigarettes. The new rules have been made in the hope of reducing the number of nicotine addicts by 2.4 million. The change affects cigarettes, hand-rolling tobacco and e-cigarettes manufactured for sale in the UK.

Standardised plain packaging

In order to discourage smokers from being attracted by pretty designs and packaging, all cigarette boxes and rolling pouches must be standardised.

Graphic health warnings

At least 65% of the packaging on show must be covered with public health warnings, graphic photos and text to demonstrate the damage that smoking does to health.

Ban on 10-packs of cigarettes

All packs must contain a minimum of 20 cigarettes to make room for the health warnings.

Smaller, weaker containers

While there’s currently no limitation on the size of refill containers, it will now be capped at 10ml and 2ml for disposable e-cigarettes, cartridges and tanks.

Expat Health Insurance Partners


Cigna has worked in international health insurance for more than 30 years. Today, Cigna has over 71 million customer relationships around the world. Looking after them is an international workforce of 31,000 people, plus a network of over 1 million hospitals, physicians, clinics and health and wellness specialists worldwide, meaning you have easy access to treatment.

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