Healthcare in the UK

This is an installment in a series of posts about moving to the UK for a Ph.D, specifically at Durham University.  To read more posts like this, see our list here.


Our experiences with the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK have been very positive.  The doctors, the chemists (that’s British for pharmacists), and others involved have been very good.  We haven’t need to visit the doctor very much, but when we did it went well.  We have friends that have delivered children here who also share glowing reports.  Reflecting on our experiences, we’d offer these tips and ideas:

  • Before you leave the USA, check with the Home Office about your Visa.  Will you be eligible for health care here?
  • Visit your doctor in the USA to get a copy of any and all regular medications you take.  This will be very important for the transfer of medications here.  It isn’t enough just to have copies of the current medications on the bottles/boxes.
  • Expect to visit the General Practitioner for most issues.  In the States, you may have gone directly to the specialist.  In the UK, the norm is to start with the GP.
  • When you arrive in the UK, visit the NHS website to find your nearest doctor.  You can find a link to their site here.
  • Make an appointment with the GP you’ve chosen.  You’ll go by their Surgery (that’s British for Clinic) to get registered and get setup with the doctor.  Take your passport/visa and other documents they need from you.
  • You will have a little paperwork to fill out, but it doesn’t take much to get registered.
  • If you should need the physician, simply ring into the surgery.  You may speak to someone on the phone for advice or they may prefer you to come in.  We have found the doctors to be very quick in replies to our questions.
  • I have even heard of doctors make a house call to take care of several people at once!  We have a friend who has 4 kids.  When it was time to see the family, the doctor came by the house.  Pretty cool!
  • If you do have to visit the office, it is a painless process.  We have often gotten appointments on the same day of our call.  We haven’t waited long when we arrived.  And when you’re done, just walk out.  No need for check out paperwork.
  • If you require an ongoing prescription you will find that here in the UK they are called  “repeat prescriptions”.  Save the slip of paper that will come with your medication.  You will have to return that to the chemist to allow them to pick up your “repeat” or refill.  The chemist or yourself must go and collect the repeating prescription from the Doctor’s surgery.  They do not keep a copy in the computer to call in for refills. You must collect the paper copy of the prescription each time you need a refill.  It may seem horribly inefficient however, I believe that this keeps unneeded scripts from wastefully being refilled.


For many folks, the issues of healthcare has been a point of anxiety.  Even the NHS has gotten press here in the UK.  I don’t know enough to speak about the overall system, not do I pretend to.  However, I will say that the doctors and staff in our local surgeries, the chemists, and the others involved have been great.  If you find yourself a patient of the NHS during your time in the UK, rest easy.





3 responses to “Healthcare in the UK

  1. Could you elaborate more on the expenses involved with U.S. patrons? I know it is cost free for Brits, but what is the pricing for U.S. citizen visits/prescriptions?

    • How healthcare is provided and the cost will largely depend upon your visa. Check with the Home Office to see what is available with yours. Alternatively, private insurance is available for purchase and private practitioners accept this insurance.

    • Sure Adam. If you are entering the UK on a tier four student visa there is no cost for you. We were able to register at any doctor’s surgery (office) in about 2o minutes. Simply bring your passport to the office and they will get you all signed up. We did this on our first day. We took the whole family in at once and filled out the paperwork. Just select an clinic close to home with good recommendations. Ask other students for recommendations or check the NHS website. There is no copay for visiting the clinic. Prescriptions are about $12 co-pay no matter what the medication. We did not visit the emergency room (A & E) so I am uncertain about copay cost that may be associated with those. I hope that is helpful to you. Please let us know if you have any more questions. We would love to help.


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