The healthcare services available in the UK are either public (the National Health Service) or private. Both offer high standards of medical care but may differ in the services offered, service levels (for example, waiting times) and facilities.
Expats living in the UK use both public and private healthcare facilities but they are generally not entitled to government healthcare subsidies. However, European nationals can access free healthcare under European Community regulations, provided you have a European Health Insurance Card and the service is covered by these regulations, and some countries have reciprocal agreements for some health services. If you work for a UK-based or registered company, you are also eligible to receive free healthcare.
Before you go
You do not need to have vaccinations or take other preventive medicines before you leave for the UK.
It is important to check that any boosters or routine vaccinations are up-to-date before you travel. This may include diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, (DTP), measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and polio.
Outbreaks of measles have been reported throughout Europe, including the UK. There have been mainly small clusters in the UK based in universities, schools and in families.
Malaria is not found in the UK or in Europe so you don’t need to take any preventative medicines for this.
Click here for updates on disease outbreaks.
Please note, vaccination recommendations are based on the information available at the time of publication. For up to date advice on disease outbreaks in the UK, visit the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention website and view the latest travel notices.
Take copies of your medical records with you to the UK. You can ask for either print or electronic copies from your doctor before you go. Having your records with you will ensure that if you need to see a doctor, he or she will have access to your medical history, including details of any conditions, tests, treatments and vaccinations.
If your prescription medicines contain controlled substances (for example codeine, diazepam or morphine), you can take up to three months’ supply without seeking prior approval from the authorities.
If you plan to take a greater supply, you will need to apply for a personal import licence from the Home Office and apply before you travel.
You will also need to take supporting documents to prove that the medicines are for your personal use, for example a letter from a doctor and/or a copy of the prescription. Ensure you keep your medicines in their original packaging.
Further details are available on the Home Office website.
Private medical insurance
Private medical insurance is not mandatory for expatriates. Expatriates who do not have private medical insurance will have to self-pay if they use private healthcare services. Many employers provide private medical insurance for their employees while they are abroad.
In the UK, primary care is provided through public and private general practitioners (GPs) in GP practices and NHS walk-in clinics. There are around 36,000 public GPs in England working in around 8,200 GP practices. In the UK as a whole there are over 48,600 GPs.
You have to register with a public GP to receive treatment. This is an advantage as he or she will be familiar with your medical history. You do not need to register to see a private GP or a GP at a walk-in centre.
You will need to make an appointment to see most GPs, although a walk-in service is available in some clinics and in NHS walk-in centres.
Bupa Global’s medical staff can help our members find a GP. Alternatively, you can find a GP through personal recommendation or via internet and telephone directories.
The NHS has an online directory of health services.
The General Medical Council also has a register of all GPs and doctors licensed to practice in the UK.
To see a specialist in the UK, you will usually be referred by a GP. Specialists in private practice may see patients without a referral. You should contact the specialist to find out if a GP referral is required. Once you have a referral, you can make an appointment directly with the specialist at a public or private outpatient clinic. You can choose which hospital you would like to receive specialist care.
Your GP will be able to recommend a specialist for your condition, as well as provide the specialist with relevant information about your medical history, including details of previous test results and treatments.
Bupa Global’s medical centre staff can assist Bupa Global members in finding a suitable specialist.
Alternatively, you can find a specialist by talking to your GP, through personal recommendation or via ‘specialist directories’ available on most hospital websites.
Use Bupa Global facilities finder to find details of UK hospital websites.
There are 1,600 public hospitals and specialist care centres in the UK and 129 Foundation Trust (part of the NHS) hospitals in England. These hospitals provide inpatient and specialist outpatient services, and the majority have a 24-hour accident and emergency (A&E) department. Specialist care centres cover a range of specialties from cancer to neuroscience.
The UK has 189 private hospitals with inpatient facilities, outpatient clinics (offering specialist consultations) and diagnostic services.
Bupa Global’s medical centre staff can assist Bupa Global members in finding a quality assured hospital or clinic.
If you have a life-threatening emergency, dial 999. This is the telephone number for the government emergency ambulance service, which will take you to the nearest public hospital.
You do not need to have an appointment to get treatment at an A&E department. You can either walk in or arrive by ambulance. When you first arrive, you will be assessed. If you have a serious medical problem, you will be seen straight away, otherwise you may have to wait. Long waiting times in public A&E departments are not uncommon.
Bupa Global’s medical centre staff can help our members to find a suitable emergency hospital or clinic.
This service is designed to help you understand:
- what your diagnosis means
- that your diagnosis is correct
- that the proposed treatment is correct
- further available information about your condition
- alternative treatments that may be better for you
Find out more about the second medical opinion service.