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National Health Service 

The National Health Service (NHS) is the UK’s state health service and provides treatment for UK residents through a variety of means.

The NHS provides a wide range of health care services. Some services are free, and some you will have to pay for.

Am I entitled to NHS treatment?

The following NHS treatment is free for anyone:

  • treatment in an emergency (but not follow-up treatment)
  • treatment of certain communicable diseases
  • compulsory psychiatric treatment.

To qualify for any other NHS treatment, you must meet certain conditions.

Students from European Economic Area countries

If you come from a European Economic Area (EEA) country, you and your family qualify for full NHS treatment in the UK.

The EEA is a free trade zone between countries of the European Union (EU), Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. The regulations on access to healthcare in the EEA also apply in Switzerland.

You are an EEA national if you are a citizen or national of one of the following countries. If you have permanent residence in, but not citizenship of, any of these countries, you are not an EEA national:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Republic of Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • the United Kingdom.

Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are EEA member states, but they are not members of the EU.

Switzerland is not a member of the EU or the EEA. However, since 1 June 2002, Swiss nationals have had rights that are similar to those of nationals of EEA countries.

EEA nationals studying in the UK for less than six months

Students from an EEA country or Switzerland on courses lasting for less the six months are entitled to necessary medical treatment whilst they are studying in the UK. Students should obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) in their home country before travelling to the UK to demonstrate their entitlement.

Planned health treatment

The S2 (formerly E112) form allows EEA nationals to prove their entitlement to planned health treatment in another EEA country or Switzerland. EEA nationals carrying the form S2 for specified medical conditions are entitled to free NHS GP treatment for that condition.

Students from outside the EEA

Course duration

If you are from a country outside the EEA and your course of study is for six months or more (or you are studying full-time for any length of time in Scotland), you will qualify for NHS treatment, from the beginning of your stay, on the same basis as anyone who is ordinarily resident in the UK. Your family will also be entitled to NHS treatment.

You are entitled to free treatment in NHS hospitals and you may register as a patient with a General Practitioner (GP).

If your course of study is for less than six months, and you’re not studying in Scotland or a country with a reciprocal health agreement (see below), you will not be entitled to NHS hospital treatment, except in emergencies.

GPs may agree to treat you for free, but this will usually be limited to urgent treatment that cannot be delayed until you return home. You will have to pay for any other treatment as a private patient.

It is therefore very important that you take out medical insurance for the duration of your visit to the UK. If do not have insurance private treatment could prove very expensive.

Reciprocal health care agreements

The UK has reciprocal health care agreements with a number of countries outside of the EEA and Switzerland.

Nationals of, and UK nationals in, the following countries:

  • Armenia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Belarus
  • Bosnia
  • Croatia
  • Georgia
  • Gibraltar
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kirgizstan
  • Macedonia
  • Moldova
  • New Zealand
  • Russia
  • Tajikistan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Ukraine
  • Uzbekistan
  • Yugoslavia (ie Serbia & Montenegro).

Residents irrespective of nationality of the following countries:

  • Anguilla
  • Australia
  • Barbados
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Caicos Islands
  • Falkland Islands
  • Iceland
  • Isle of Man
  • Jersey
  • Montserrat
  • St Helena
  • Turks.

Reciprocal health care agreements generally cover hospital treatment where the need for which arose during your stay, but do not always cover treatment of an existing condition. You should seek advice before you travel from the health authorities in your home country about what treatment will be covered. You may still need to take out limited medical insurance.

The list of countries with a reciprocal health care agreement with the UK changes from time to time, so check the Department of Health website for the latest information.

Asylum seekers and refugees

Asylum seekers and refugees given leave to remain in the UK, or awaiting the results of an application to remain, are regarded as ordinarily resident and entitled to full NHS GP treatment.

What does the NHS provide free of charge?

If you are entitled to NHS treatment, the following services will be free of charge:

  • consulting a GP and most other GP services (eg visiting a clinic)
  • treatment in a hospital (both emergency and non-emergency treatment).

You may need to pay for:

  • medicines prescribed by your GP
  • some GP services (eg vaccinations for travel, getting a sickness certificate) – ask your GP for details of costs
  • dental treatment
  • optical treatment.


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