Understanding the UK health care system

Upon relocating to any new country, an awareness of the local health care system is fundamental, and in the UK this means the NHS.


MOVING from New Zealand to the UK can be a daunting experience. Unfamiliar education, legal and health services can be confusing and trying to understand these new systems can be difficult. Upon relocating to any new country, an awareness of the local health care system is fundamental, and in the UK this means the NHS. This is essential not only for times of ill-health and medical emergencies, but also to ensure that you recognize where you stand in incidences of medical negligence. The NHS is available across the UK and the basics are straightforward enough for any newcomer to quickly understand.

The NHS is the world’s largest publicly funded health service, which many services free at the point of use. This covers a wide range and anything from a check up with a GP to emergency treatment and surgery is provided free of charge. Unlike in New Zealand, where there is a strong secondary market for private health insurance, people in the UK largely rely on the NHS.

Just as New Zealand’s healthcare system is overseen by the government’s Ministry of Health, in the UK the government Department of Health is responsible for the NHS. This body controls all 10 of the service’s Strategic Health Authorities, with the government also being responsible for allocating funding. In the years 2011/2012 the NHS budget was £106 billion.

The NHS provides or subsidises a range of services for a variety of health needs: emergency care, hospital, dental and GP services, pharmacy and eyecare, as well as sexual, mental and social health care services. So, rest assured: you are in good hands!

Upon moving to the UK a GP will probably be your first contact with the NHS and it is important to register once you arrive in your new home. You will have a choice of which GP surgery you register with, provided you live within its catchment area. If you move to a large city you will therefore usually have a greater number to choose from than if you relocate to a smaller town or village. Once you register with a surgery you will be provided with all the relevant information about which services are provided and how to book an appointment.

In the unfortunate event that you experience a serious accident, emergency services can also be accessed free of charge. Accident and emergency departments cater to over 20 million visitors per year and larger departments can be accessed 24 hours a day. If you move to a quieter location without an A and E department close by, you can call 999 for medical emergencies, or NHS Direct for less immediate health concerns.

The NHS is a professional and respected service and offers a range of services largely free of charge. This means staying healthy and well upon your move to the UK will be a straightforward and affordable experience.