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Can Visitors Use Free UK Medical Services? What are the Health Service Rules

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Ambulances at an Accident and Emergency Unit

Ambulances at an Accident and Emergency Unit

Graeme Robertson/Getty Images

Can visitors use the free UK National Health Service?:


Residents of the UK and certain others, defined by complicated rules, have free access to all medical services delivered by the UK National Health Service - usually called the NHS. Visitors may have access to some of these services too, but rules put in place to prevent health tourism - arriving in the UK for free medical treatment -- mean visitors to the UK still need travelers' health insurance.

Only emergency treatment is free:


If you have an accident or need emergency medical treatment, you will receive that treatment free of charge, regardless of your nationality or place of residence as long as that emergency treatment is delivered at:
  • A primary care facility or GP's office
  • A hospital emergency room
  • A walk-in center providing services similar to an emergency room.

Once you are admitted to a hospital - even for emergency surgery or further emergency treatment - you have to pay for your treatment and medicines.

If you are asked to return for a clinic visit follow up after your emergency treatment, you will also have to pay for that.

Other services that are free to all:


Visitors also have free access to:
  • Treatment for some infectious diseases
  • Compulsory psychiatric treatment
  • Family planning services.

Are the rules the same for all visitors?:


No. Some visitors to the UK have more access to the NHS than others:
  • Visitors from EU countries and other members of what is called the European Economic Area are subject to somewhat more access to the National Health Service.
  • Visitors from countries which have a bilateral agreement with the UK may also have access to more services.
  • People working in certain kinds of occupations - such NATO employees and some voluntary workers - may also have free access to the NHS.

For a full list of visitors who have free or partially free access to NHS services, check the NHS Website.

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