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Doctors & Hospitals for Expats in the United Kingdom

Submitted: July 2013

If you are entitled to NHS services (see National Health Services for Expats), NHS doctors and hospitals are essentially free (though fixed ‘prescription charges’ may apply), though there might be waiting lists. Alternatively, you might want to pay for a private healthcare provider.

NHS Services

Finding Healthcare

Almost all doctors and hospitals in the UK can be found in the NHS Service Directory. It is then possible to choose a healthcare provider from the results. The term ‘general practitioner’ (in its abbreviated form, ‘GP’) is more commonly used than ‘doctor’ to describe your main healthcare professional. Results are given with indicators to assess the quality of healthcare providers. For hospitals, these include user and staff recommendations, mortality rates as well as the ability for a hospital to quickly respond to patient safety alerts (NPSA alerts). Other indicators are given for other healthcare providers.

In addition to the UK and EU emergency numbers (999 and 112 respectively), 111 is the number for urgent (but not life-threatening) health issues in most parts of England & Wales. See Health Emergencies for Expats in the UK

Registering with a GP

It is advisable for an expat to register with a GP at a local GP surgery as soon as possible, as GP surgeries may refuse to take on a patient in certain circumstances, such as:

  • Living outside the area covered by the GP surgery, or
  • Failure to supply a proof of address, or
  • The GP surgery is not accepting new patients (this information is normally available in the NHS service directory results).

The Department of Health is gradually expanding the flexibility for patients to choose their GP. Under the Patient Choice Scheme (PCS), it is sometimes possible to attend a GP surgery in an area you frequently commute to (e.g. London, Manchester), even you if you live outside the area. For more information regarding GP registration, click here, and here.

Specialist Treatment and Hospitals

If you need treatment from a specialist, you must seek referral from your GP first. If your GP finds that it is clinically necessary to see a specialist, he may give you referral and possibly recommend you one specific hospital or clinic. You have a legal right to start specialist treatment within a maximum waiting time after GP referral of 18 weeks, unless it is clinically appropriate to wait longer or you decide to do so. If you have a condition which is likely to require urgent treatment (e.g. cancer), the maximum waiting time is reduced to two weeks.

For minor injuries or illnesses such as cuts, bruises and rashes, you can simply visit an NHS walk-in centre (WiC), an Urgent Care Centre (UCC) or a Minor Injuries Unit (MIU). Any member of the public may come without appointment and you don’t need to be registered.

Dental Care

Prescription charges apply for dental care in England, depending on what you need. There are three charge “bands”: £18, £49, and £214. However, you don’t have to pay if:

  • you must stop blood loss
  • you have stitches removed
  • you come for denture repairs, or
  • you come only be issued a prescription (in this case, a prescription charge will apply, but when you collect your medications)

Eye Doctors

Eye care must be paid for privately (including sight tests). Exemptions may apply for low-income individuals, and for certain patients with a clinical risk of becoming partially sighted.

Private sector healthcare

There is a growing private healthcare sector in the UK. Private sector hospitals and practices may be found on Private Healthcare UK. An overview of private healthcare costs is also available on this website.

Some patients decide to go private to ensure treatment by a specific healthcare professional. However, recent reforms have lengthened NHS waiting lists, which in turn have resulted in a higher demand for faster treatment with private healthcare. Typically, a consultation with a private specialist costs between £100 and £250.

Nevertheless, it is generally better for expats to register for a GP (public or private), even if they are willing to pay for private healthcare, as private hospitals may also require GP referral for certain services. If you are unclear whether you need GP referral, contact your local hospital.

If you have a Private health insurance policy, you must contact your insurance provider before going to a private healthcare professional. See Health Insurance for Expats in the UK

The UK private healthcare sector is largely concentrated in large cities (Birmingham, London, Manchester), and long-distance travel may be required to attend a private practice. This might even involve a domestic flight if you live in Northern Ireland.

 

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