Everything You Need To Know About The National Health Service (NHS)

Most people don't think about their health... until something goes wrong! We share all you need to know about the UK's National Health Service including how to register with a GP.

By Kaitlyn Fasso-Opie

What is the NHS?

The National Health Service (NHS), provides healthcare to all UK citizens based on their need for healthcare rather than their ability to pay for it. It is paid for by the British Government and is funded by taxpayers. The NHS was launched in 1948 and aimed to ensure that, post-Second World War, everyone could afford good healthcare through a welfare state model.

How does the NHS work?

Under the NHS, all appointments and treatments are free to the patient (though paid for through taxes), as are almost all prescription drugs.

What does the NHS cover?

The NHS covers off on a range of services from accident and emergency (A&E), through to hospitals, general practitioners (GPs), dentists and pharmacies.

Other services covered by the NHS include: sexual health, alcohol addiction, urgent care services, depression, stop smoking services, consultants, home care and care homes, maternity services.

Will I be covered by the NHS?

The NHS in England deals with more than one million patients every 36 hours. With the exception of some charges, such as prescriptions, optical services and dental services, the NHS in England remains free at the point of use for all UK residents.

People who have travelled to the UK to live and work on a temporary work visa -- Tier 5 Youth Mobility, Tier 2 General or Tier 1 General are eligible for free medical treatment through the NHS.

You will have paid an Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) as part of your visa application, which grants you access to the NHS.

According to the UK Government, you can start using the NHS when you’ve paid the IHS, or your visa or immigration application is granted. But you’ll still need to to pay for certain types of services, such as prescriptions, dental treatment and eye tests.

You should bring your biometric residence permit with you when you access healthcare in the UK.

How do I register with the NHS?

In order to register with the NHS you will need to visit a GP and formally register as an NHS patient by completing a Family Doctor Services Registration form.

The form can be downloaded here ahead of visiting a medical clinic and speaking to a GP, but it can also be obtained at the practice. Forms may vary slightly and some practices use their own version. The NHS will then transfer your medical records (if applicable) and write to you to confirm your registration as a patient with that practice.

To register for the NHS visit - www.nhs.uk and use the service-finder to locate a GP based on your postcode. You will need to look for GP's based on your postcode and you can be refused if you choose a surgery outside of your area.

The NHS makes it clear that you should not be refused registration or appointments because you don’t have a proof of address or personal identification at hand.

Can I register with more than one GP?

No, you can only register with one GP. Once you register a doctor will be chosen for you, however when you make an appointment it might not always be with that doctor, so if you want to see the same GP then make sure you ask on the phone.

What will I need to register?

You will need to register all the usual personal details -- name, any previous surnames, town and country of birth, your address and phone number.

You will also be asked about medical records, but this is not necessarily relevant if you are recently arrived in the UK.

There is the option to register as an NHS Organ Donor at this point, should you wish your organs/tissues to be used for transplantation after death.There is no pressure either way. If you’d like more information about organ donation in the UK, visit www.uktransplant.org.uk, or call 0300 123 23 23.

Blood donors or potential blood donors can also register to join the NHS Blood Donor Register as someone who may be contacted and would be prepared to donate blood. For more on blood donation visit https://www.blood.co.uk.

When should I register?

There is no right time to register for a GP in the UK. Generally BritBound recommends that you find somewhere semi-permanent to live first, as registration with a practice is generally linked to your postcode.

Is it possible to go to a walk-in-clinic?

Yes. The NHS’s urgent care walk-in- clinics offer a range of services and can deal with minor illnesses and injuries including fractures, vomiting and diarrhoea, rashes, hayfever, stitches (sutures) and dressings. Walk-in-clinics are available to everyone and patients do not need an appointment. Nurses usually manage these clinics which are open 365 days a year, including outside office hours. To find your nearest walk-in-clinic visit https://www.nhs.uk/Service-Sea...

Do I have to make an appointment?

You don’t have to make an appointment to visit a walk-in-clinic. However you will need to make an appointments to see a GP. The good news is: appointments are free.

If you’re not sure about whether you need to see a medical professional about a health matter, you can call NHS 111, a free 24/7 helpline service for urgent medical concerns. Trained NHS professionals can connect you with a nurse, emergency dentist or GP and can arrange local face-to-face appointments as needed. They can also send an ambulance depending on the nature of the medical concern.

Pharmacists can also help decide if you need to see a medical professional. They can advise on minor ailments, including colds, aches and pains, and make sure you are taking the right medication.

If you feel you need to see a GP, or other healthcare professional, call your local medical clinic to book an appointment. Some practices may offer the ability to book online in advance, or order repeat prescriptions. There may also be the option to attend an out-of-hours appointment at your local clinic, or another clinic, depending on the clinic and what it offers.

Do I need private health insurance?

Whilst here in the UK, you are covered by the NHS* which means you do not pay to see a doctor or visit a hospital. So unless you specifically want (and can afford) private health insurance you don’t need to do anything to cover yourself medically. Of course I am not privy to your background and there may be reasons why you would need to take out additional healthcare cover. If you have medical reasons that require additional personal health insurance then of course. Do your research. For the average Joe, you will be fine with the NHS as this is the equivalent to your Medicare, or whatever it is called in your country.

*assuming that you are here on either an EU passport or have a visa that allows you to work or study here for a period of more than six months.

Can’t I just use my travel insurance?

If you would like to use your travel insurance to make a claim for health care while in the UK -- then, great. Go for it. But the NHS is free… so it’s up to you. People living and working in the UK on a Tier 5 Youth Mobility or ancestry visa have paid a quite hefty Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) fee as part of their visa applications, which means you are eligible to access the NHS during your stay. Of course, if you need specialist or other treatment then by all means, use your travel insurance.


Just like back home, basic medications like cough and cold remedies can be bought from the supermarket. Other medications will need the supervision of your pharmacist -- emergency contraception, for instance.

If you need a prescription-only medication, you will need a script from a qualified health professional. This may be a GP, hospital doctor, dentist, nurse, pharmacist, optometrist, physiotherapist or podiatrist. Some pharmacists can sell medication over the counter in an emergency -- if asthma medication has run out, for example -- but only if the patient has already registered with a GP.

Family planning clinics and services

Contraception is free under the NHS and is available from contraception clinics, some GP clinics, youth services, and sexual health or GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinics. Emergency contraception is also free and is available from some pharmacies, most NHS walk-in centres and minor injuries units, medical clinics and some hospital A&E surgeries. Have a chat to your GP for more information.

Pregnancy -- am I covered?

Maternal health care is available under the NHS… however, in order to be eligible for the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa, you cannot have children who live with you, or children you are financially responsible for. Becoming pregnant, or impregnating someone else while living and working in the UK on a Tier 5 visa will most likely void your visa. So make the most of the free contraception under the NHS, people!

How can I access specialist treatment?

To access specialist medical treatment while in the UK, you will need to get a referral from your GP. However, whether you will get the referral depends on what your GP feels is clinically necessary in your case. A GP may order tests or request that you try certain treatment options first, before referring you on. A specialist will only see you with a letter of referral from your GP. This is because all your medical records are held with the practice you are registered with.

Is dentistry covered by the NHS?

Yes. All dental treatment is covered under the NHS, including dentures, crowns and bridges. Dental implants and orthodontic treatment is also available, but only if there’s a medical need for the treatment. However, there are some costs.

How much does the dentist cost in the UK?

There are three costing bands for dental treatment under the NHS:

Band 1: £22.70 covers an examination, diagnosis and advice. If necessary, it also includes X-rays, a scale and polish, and planning for further treatment.
Band 2: £62.10 covers all treatment included in Band 1, plus additional treatment, such as fillings, root canal treatment and removing teeth (extractions).
Band 3: £269.30 covers all treatment included in Bands 1 and 2, plus more complex procedures, such as crowns, dentures and bridges.

How much do prescriptions cost?

You can access free NHS prescriptions if you:

  • Have a specified medical condition and have a valid medical exemption certificate (MedEx);
  • Have a continuing physical disability that prevents you going out without help from another person and have a valid MedEx;
  • Hold a valid war pension exemption certificate and the prescription is for your accepted disability;
  • Are an NHS inpatient.

Otherwise, there is a cost for prescriptions. The current prescription charge is £8.60 per item. Prescription prepayment certificates (PPC) are also available in England and can save you money.