The National Health Service (NHS)

The National Health Service (NHS) is the publicly funded national healthcare system in the United Kingdom.  The NHS was set up in the UK in 1948 and is the biggest employer in the UK (2017).  It is recognised as one of the best health services in the world by the World Health Organisation.

The organization, funded primarily by taxation, provides free or low-cost healthcare to all legal residents of the U.K.  Medications are also subsidized and prescriptions may be free when situations warrant.

All visitors to the UK are entitled to some treatment from the NHS although what is covered free of charge will vary depending on where you are from and the treatment required. Depending on your nationality, you may be required to pay the NHS surcharge as part of the visa process. This will allow you to access NHS services once you arrive in the UK.

You can find out more information on the NHS Choices website.

Emergency care

In a medical emergency you should dial 999 for an ambulance.  This number is only to be used for life-threatening conditions.  999 is a free call.  You can also visit the Accident and Emergency department (A&E) which provide immediate emergency care for people who show the symptoms of serious illness or who are badly injured.  The service is free to everyone in the first instance.  However, if you are taken into hospital for treatment and you are not covered by the NHS you will have to pay.

You can find your local accident and emergency department on the NHS website.

If you urgently need medical help or advice but it’s not a life-threatening situation you should dial 111,also a free call, you should call this number if:

  • You think you need to go to A&E or need another NHS urgent care service;
  • You don’t know who to call or you don’t have a GP to call;
  • You need health information or reassurance about what to do next.


NHS Walk-in Centres

These give quick and easy access to care for minor injuries and complaints, and are often open outside normal surgery hours.  You don’t need to make an appointment or register to receive care at a walk-in center, and treatment is free to all UK residents.

You can find a walk-in centre on the NHS website.


European health insurance card (EHIC)

If you are a visitor from the European Economic Area (EEA) then a valid EHIC card may allow you access to state healthcare in EEA countries, including Switzerland, at a reduced cost or sometimes free.  It will cover you for treatment that is needed to allow you to continue your stay until your planned return.  It also covers you for treatment of pre-existing medical conditions and for routine maternity care, as long as you’re not going abroad to give birth.

The EHIC is free of charge and you can apply or renew a card via the official EHIC online application form on the NHS website.