If you are accepted as ordinarily resident in the UK you may claim help with health costs in the same way as other residents. If you are entitled to National Health Service (NHS) treatment, the following services are free of charge:
- Consulting a GP (General Practitioner) and most other GP services
- Treatment in a hospital (both emergency and non-emergency treatment)
You may need to pay for:
- Medicines prescribed by your GP
- Some GP services e.g. travel vaccinations
- Dental treatment
- Optical treatment
On taking up residence in the UK it is advisable to approach a GP practice and apply to register on its list of NHS patients. The practice may choose to accept or decline your application. An application may be refused if the practice has reasonable grounds for doing so, such as if you are living outside their practice area. A practice would not be able to refuse your application on the grounds of race, gender, social class, age, religion, sexual orientation, appearance, disability or medical condition.
The National Health Service was set up more than 50 years ago promising free healthcare from the “cradle to the grave.” It has developed into one of the biggest organizations in Europe and is widely respected throughout the international health community. However, with increasing demands upon the service, together with the continuing development of technology and research, the NHS has recently come under some degree of strain. To help deal with this problem, the organization of the NHS has undergone a number of changes, such as establishing links with private hospitals to help ease patient waiting times. Accessing NHS Scotland comes initially through a primary care trust, which means registering with a local doctor, known as a general practitioner (GP), and dentist. Secondary care is the term used to describe the provision in hospitals or clinics, with these facilities also grouped in healthcare trusts. Both primary and secondary care trusts operate under the umbrella of health board regions throughout Scotland, all of which together make up NHS Scotland.
The General Practitioner (GP)
Finding a local GP can be done by contacting the primary care trust, going online to NHS Scotland or through information available in all public libraries. Evidence of permanent residence is required. Once registered, the GP may be consulted not just when required for treatment or consultation, but also as a central point in terms of health promotion and illness prevention. The primary care GP often works in tandem with community health specialists such as midwives or school nurses and is the point of referral to secondary care services such as hospitals or specialist clinics. Vaccinations are offered free to babies, young adults and the elderly, as well as the chronically sick. Medicines prescribed by the GP are not, however, free. Anyone requiring regular prescriptions is advised to buy a pre-payment certificate, a one-time payment then entitles the holder to an unlimited number of medicines as required in the given period. Some people are completely exempt from paying for prescriptions, including children under 16, 16-18-year-olds who are in full-time education, people over 60 with certain conditions, and expectant mothers.
A local dentist can be found in the same way as a GP, but there are differences in how they deliver NHS treatment. Once again, children, some young people and those on state benefits will receive free care. Expectant mothers, too, are entitled to free dental treatment for a year after the birth of their child. However, everyone else must pay standard charges.
Opticians are readily available and do provide NHS treatment. Eyesight tests are free to some people, including children. An optometrist detecting any problems requiring investigation or treatment would direct clients to their GP, who may refer them on to an eye hospital or clinic.
Use of private healthcare has increased in recent years, due largely to more employers offering membership of schemes (such as BUPA or PPP) as part of a package of flexible benefits to staff members. However, most people in Scotland who access private healthcare do so at secondary care level – that is, they are still registered with an NHS GP. It is when they are referred for specialist treatment or for an operation that they may choose to access private healthcare. In some cases, patients will be referred straight to one of Scotland’s many private hospitals. Or, instead, they might choose referral to an NHS hospital, but decide to “go private” for their operation. Alternatively they may use the private system for one single element of treatment, such as a diagnostic test. Some dentists are now completely private while others offer both private and NHS treatment. Always check with the dentist when you are registering as a patient to ensure you get the type of treatment that you want. For further information, see www.privatehealth.co.uk .
Many so-called alternative therapies such as acupuncture or aromatherapy are now accepted by mainstream practitioners and are increasingly offered alongside traditional treatments by the NHS. There is also a homoeopathic hospital in Glasgow which is part of the NHS. There has been a huge growth in Chinese, western or Ayurvedic herbalists, but patients should be careful to check practitioner qualifications. Napiers (with clinics in Glasgow and Edinburgh) offers advice and assistance in finding the nearest qualified practitioner (www.napiers.net ).
Department of Health – www.doh.gov.uk
NHS Scotland – www.show.scot.nhs.uk