Saunders 1865 | What is the NHS and can Expats trust it?

What is the NHS and can Expats trust it?

FreeAdvice - ContactExpats relocating to the UK are likely to come across the National Health Service (NHS).

With all the heated debates across America about social healthcare, Expats from the US probably have some thoughts about government-funded healthcare; now there’s an opportunity to experience it first-hand here in the UK and judge for yourself.

Who provides the healthcare in the UK?

England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have their own health systems to reflect each region’s priorities and needs.  All of them have their own version of the NHS (free-at-the-point-of-need public healthcare for permanent residents funded by taxes).  There is also a private healthcare sector, though the public sector is a lot bigger.

All of the public healthcare systems cooperate with one another, so being an English resident you can still be treated if you have a medical emergency in Scotland for example.  However, once essential treatment has been administered you might be transported back to your region of residence for any further treatments.

What is the NHS?

The NHS is a nationally-funded healthcare service.  It is the oldest and largest single-payer (government funded) healthcare system in the world, run primarily off money from taxes.  Some services require contributions from patients, but in most cases the system provides free healthcare for any registered resident.  Registering for NHS services is fairly easy and is available not only to legal permanent residents but also those residing in the UK on an expat transfer for example.

The NHS is also responsible for public ambulance services.

Because NHS healthcare is free is it also low quality?

It depends who you ask!  Like anywhere else, some facilities are better than others, but the NHS includes top-end facilities.  It is by no means perfect, but it ranks consistently high when compared to healthcare in other countries.

However, the NHS is seriously under-resourced and the strain continues to grow year on year.  This often leads to delays in getting treatments, especially for non-critical issues.  The length of delays can vary considerably from area to area.

There are virtually no delays for private patients.

Are there alternatives?

Yes.  While the NHS makes up the public sector of the healthcare system, you have the option of seeking private care too.  Private healthcare is typically self-funded or through a medical insurance provider, which is sometimes company funded.  BUPA is the best known private health insurer in the UK.

Medical insurance in the UK is much cheaper than in America.

The private alternative allows you to choose your doctors and treatments.  There are certainly perks to private healthcare, though the NHS is sometimes arguably better equipped in certain circumstances such as when acute attention is needed.

There’s a good article on things to consider before investing in private healthcare here

What’s a GP?

GP is short for ‘General Practitioner’.  They treat illnesses, provide health education and preventative care.  In the UK your main doctor tends to be a GP, and the same GP often sees a whole family (rather than having a physician for adults and a separate paediatrician for children).

Your GP is your primary care provider and acts as the gatekeeper for access to more specialist healthcare professionals.

How do I register?  Am I even allowed to register?

If you move to England permanently you are entitled to use NHS services.  If you are staying for less than three months, you can still register as a temporary patient.

Moving to England permanently doesn’t mean you necessarily think you’ll be here the rest of your life; it is more that you plan to live and work in the UK for an extended amount of time.

For information regarding your rights as a new UK resident, click here

If you want information about the rights of someone visiting the UK to NHS services click here

Here you will find the NHS guidelines to registering with a GP (see entitlement under the rights of those moving to England).

Registering essentially involves finding a local GP accepting new patients and then completing a form and proving your identity.

It is best to register as soon as possible, but if disaster strikes chances are you’ll be taken care of first and asked questions later.  That’s the great thing about the UK’s NHS!

Do I need/can I get health insurance?

Do you need it?  In most cases probably no.  The majority of UK residents get by just fine without it since, if you’re registered with the NHS, they’ll cover you for all your medical needs.  But, if after looking at your options you want to invest in private healthcare, insurance is a good idea.

This guide will walk you through how private medical insurance works in the UK and how to find the insurance that’s right for you.

How does healthcare in the UK compare to the American healthcare system?

It depends who you ask, but we can tell you that the UK is consistently ranked above the US when the two healthcare systems are compared such as in this World Health Organization report (UK ranks 18th, US ranks 37th out of 101 countries compared) and The Commonwelath Fund report (UK ranks 2nd, US ranked 7th out of seven wealthy countries).

You’ll have to decide for yourself what you think, but some useful articles if you’re still curious include…

How does US healthcare compare to the rest of the world? (the Guardian)

Healthcare and Culture: A look at the British and American systems (Worldwide ERC)

Is Britain’s health-care system really that bad? (TIME)

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