The UK lies in mainland Europe and is made up of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales), Northern Ireland and some smaller local islands. The United Kingdom is surrounded by the North Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, the Irish Sea, and the English Channel.
The National Health Service (NHS) of the United Kingdom
Funded through taxation, the NHS provides low-cost, and sometimes free, medical care to all its residents. Services that require a fee include dental treatments, medical prescriptions, eye tests, and spectacles. These charges are not applicable to children, people in receipt of unemployment benefit and pregnant women. The NHS general practitioners, along with hospital care consultations are practically free for all the residents of the UK. Hospitals and other medical facilities that provide free services are available in most parts of the country. However, there are only few dentists that offer NHS services.
Overseas visitors from non-European Union countries qualify for free emergency treatment at all NHS hospitals. However, they are required to pay for other medical services and in-patient treatments. The United Kingdom also has a reciprocal healthcare arrangement with a number of other countries including Australia and New Zealand, as well as a number of Eastern European countries. Nationals from these countries are, generally speaking, exempt from health care payments.
However, all other non-British residents have to pay for their medical and hospital treatments, unless their employer provides them with sufficient medical insurance.
If you are confused as to whether you qualify for the health service or not, try to visit the website of the Department of Health in the United Kingdom. It provides you with the detailed rules and procedures, along with documentation on access to UK hospitals and general health care, and some other important health care information.
Visitors and expatriates are recommended to take out private health insurance before they arrive.
Moving in the United Kingdom
Upon arriving in the United Kingdom, the first thing you have to do is to register with the General Practitioner located in you area. You will then be provided with a NHS number. Your general practitioner will then give you the necessary treatment and advice. He will also issue you medical prescriptions and if necessary, recommend you for specialist treatment.
If you have some enquiries regarding dentists and general practitioners in your area, the NHS Direct can provide you with the necessary details (this service is only available for England and Wales). NHS Direct is basically a 24-hour health advice and information telephone service run by trained medical specialists and nurses. Additionally, the NHS also operates 'walk-in centres' in different locations in the country. These provide advice and treatments on minor health concerns and problems. Although these centres are open for overseas visitors, certain fees will still be charged.
Hospitals in the United Kingdom
There are a number of private and public hospitals and medical facilities in and around London and all throughout the UK. Some are staffed with surgeons that have various fields of specializations, but not all provide dedicated emergency services. All hospitals that do provide emergency services will accept you, even if you do not have an NHS number. Patients are treated in order of the urgency of their condition.
Pharmacies in the United Kingdom
Pharmacists, or chemists as they are commonly known in the UK, are found all over the country. Outlets such as Superdrug and Boots are rapidly increasing in number. Trained pharmacists are available to supply you with your prescription medicines. They can also provide you with general advice on certain medical conditions that do not require prescriptions.
Commentary: Health care is practically available free for UK residents. Visitors and tourists should be prepared to pay for health care as private patients. It is a good idea to take out travel insurance to ensure you receive treatment if you fall ill whilst on holiday or business trip. Travel insurance should be mandatory given the number of cases that we have encountered in the UK recently. (Some have been deported whilst seriously ill, others have been denied treatment). All citizens are encouraged to take out health insurance policies. If you are ill an ambulance can arrive within 5-10 minutes, however unless you have private medical insurance, it is a lottery when you arrive at the hospital. You could be left on a trolley in the queue waiting for treatment for a considerable amount of time which could have dire consequences.