The healthcare system in the United Kingdom


The national healthcare system in the UK is called the NHS (National Health Service). The NHS covers healthcare related costs for residents in the country and deals with one million patients every 36 hours.

Foreigners are covered by the NHS if they hold a valid visa issued for a minimum duration of six months. Dependants of the visa holder (spouse, children) are eligible to NHS's services.

There is also private healthcare system with providers such as Bupa, which come at a premium charge but offer quicker referrals and more one to one treatment. You can often get private healthcare insurance through your employer as part of your employment package.

NHS health card

Citizens of the EU are covered in the UK through their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Health-related costs will be charged following the same terms and conditions as for British nationals. If you don't have an EHIC, contact your national healthcare service and ensure that you receive the EHIC card before leaving for the UK.

 Attention: The above European health information is per the 2017 EU health rights, which may change in the United Kingdom once Brexit is officially put in place.

To be able to use the NHS, nationals from outside of the EU need to obtain a NHS number. To get the NHS number and subsequently the NHS card, visit the nearest local health centre and fill in the form, which is usually given at the front reception desk. You will receive your NHS card and your personal NHS number by post within a few days.

Then you can register with a GP surgery. The GP surgery is the general practitioner or referring doctor you need to visit to get appropriate (non-emergency) treatments or before applying for an appointment to a specialist. You can find your local GP surgery online.


A GP surgery can refuse to add you to their patient's list if they are full. If this happens to you, contact the Primary Care Trust in your area, and they will help you find a local GP surgery.

If you require emergency medical help, do not go to the GP, instead go straight to Hospital.

Regional healthcare in the UK

The healthcare in the UK is national and does not change per region. However, the healthcare facilities available to you will depend on where you live. In major cities and surrounding areas there are many public hospitals, drop in centres, dentists, and general practitioners. In smaller towns or villages there is always a GP and hospital in proximity to your home.

To find the nearest healthcare facility, you can add your postcode to  NHS's search tool.

Insurance in the UK

If you require private health insurance in the UK, there a lot of insurance companies to choose from. It is well worth shopping around for a deal that best suits your needs. Many private healthcare companies will also cover your immediate family.

Many companies offer private healthcare as part of the recruitment package or as an option for employees. Contact your H.R department for more information.


It is in your interest to verify that your health needs are not already covered by the NHS before seeking private health insurance.

Emergency numbers in the UK

If you require urgent medical attention do not contact your GP, instead go to your local hospital or call the following emergency numbers:

999: UK police, ambulance, fire brigade or coastguard emergency number

112: European emergency number

 Useful links:

European Heath Insurance Card
NHS information
Private Insurance Comparison site

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.
Recommend Your favourite team
Member since 01 June 2008
Small earth, Mauritius
1 Comment
4 years ago

The NHS is fantastic on what it delivers. It provides great emergency care through to services such as IVF - which could arguably be described as discretionary and not necessary. And it does so at pretty low cost compared woth any where else in the forst world However it does so by treating the patoent not as the customer as a product not as the customer. If you want to be a treated as the customer you need to go private. But medical insurance in the UK is predicated on the NHS GP being the first point of contact. And they do referrals to others - they are gatekeepers on the service. Even if you can find a private GP - difficult - they will wish to talk to your NHS one. All the private consultants etc work for the NHS as their day job. So remember - in the UK you are not the customer, no matter how nice and helpful the people you see are - you are a product being put through the production line.


See also

London, the United Kingdom's capital city, hosts many public and private hospitals as well as clinics. You can easily access to health care services.
As a dynamic city with a great cultural diversity, London attracts many international students. Here is all that you need to know about studying in London.
London has many prestigious universities that attract thousands of foreign students every year. Find out how to enroll in a university in London.
Making friends in England as a newcomer might be difficult but not impossible. Here are a few tips on how to meet new people and have fun.
How to work in United Kingdom? What kind of visa should I apply for in order to work in England? Do I need a resident card or permit?