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United Kingdom Healthcare

Public Healthcare

Britain’s public provider of healthcare is known as the National Health Services (NHS). Services provided by the NHS include hospitals, family doctors, specialists, dentists, chemists, opticians and the ambulance service.

Each country of the United Kingdom has a separate public healthcare system, with power over the provision of health services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland being devolved. Each system provides healthcare to their citizens that is free at the point of need (being funded from general taxation). Despite this similarity, considerable differences are now developing between the different systems.

Various regulatory bodies are organised on a UK-wide basis such as the General Medical Council, the Nursing and Midwifery Council and non-governmental-based (e.g. Royal Colleges). Across the UK, there is a large number of medical schools and dental schools, and a considerable establishment for training nurses and professions allied to medicine, such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy, clinical psychology and radiography. The UK and devolved governments take on both the role of suppliers of public healthcare and assessors of the quality of its delivery through groups organised directly by government departments, such as NICE and CHI.

Not all services provided by the NHS are free of charge. Unless exempt, patients pay (subsidised) fixed costs for prescriptions, sight tests, NHS glasses and dental treatment. Hospital treatment, the ambulance service and medical consultations remain free.

The UK’s NHS was the first state organisation in the world to provide free universal healthcare. Today, it is an organisation with some severe structural problems, which means that waiting lists for treatments even for urgent operations have grown and the standard of treatment in some hospitals has deteriorated. Many Britons in the higher income bracket purchase private health insurance and there is a growing number of employers providing private cover as standard to their employees.

Entitlement to treatment from NHS

The principal groups that the NHS provides free or subsidized medical treatment to are:

• Those with the right of abode in Britain and who are currently resident in Britain (this excludes British citizens who are resident abroad);
• Anyone who has been resident in the UK for the previous year ;
• EU nationals;
• Students (on courses longer than 6 months);
• Anyone with a British work permit.

Nationals of countries with reciprocal health agreements with Britain are also entitled to treatment from the NHS, although exemption from charges is usually limited to emergency treatment. Countries with reciprocal agreements include: EEA nations, Anguilla, Australia, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Bulgaria, Channel Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, New Zealand, Romania, Russia, St Helena, Switzerland, Turkey, and the Caicos Islands.

Private Healthcare

Private medical treatment in Britain is amongst the best in the world, with London having some of world’s most skilled specialists. Within the country, most people go private to avoid NHS waiting lists for non-emergency specialist appointments and non-urgent treatment. Around a quarter of all operations are performed privately.

There is almost always no difference in quality between private and NHS doctors. Indeed, you will often end up seeing the same specialist privately as you would have seen through the NHS. The difference will be when you get the appointment and how quickly you are treated, i.e. a heart bypass operation may be diagnosed for and completed in a couple of weeks with private treatment, but through the NHS this could take two or three months.

If you wish to use private healthcare, it is advisable to take out an insurance policy with a specialist health insurer, such as BUPA or PPP. Many employers also provide their workers with private health insurance, which is definitely worth finding out about if interviewing for different positions or negotiating a package.





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