Healthcare in the UK

The United Kingdom consists of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and has one of the largest healthcare systems in the world. It is also generally recognized as one of the best. The National Health Service (NHS) was established after World War II with the National Health Service Act of 1946 and was launched in 1948. It was the first healthcare system funded by general taxation that provided free care at the point of use. Under the 1946 Act, the Minister of Health had a duty to provide a comprehensive, free health service, replacing voluntary insurance and out-of-pocket payments. Before the creation of the NHS, healthcare was generally expensive and was only affordable to the rich. Citizens of the U.K are very proud of the NHS and view it as a very trusted institution.  

Healthcare in the United Kingdom is a devolved matter which means England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales each have their own systems of private and publicly-funded healthcare. There is NHS England, NHS Wales, NHS Scotland and the Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland. Each NHS system is very similar but are run by their own governments. All UK residents can access many NHS services free of charge. The system provides emergency healthcare for everyone, regardless of residential status. However, you must be a resident to access secondary care through the NHS. Each NHS system Each NHS system uses General Practitioners (GPs) to provide primary healthcare and to make referrals. Hospitals then provide more specialist services. Community pharmacies are privately owned but have contracts with the relevant health service to supply prescription drugs.  

The NHS is very comprehensive and covers a variety of services for free as long as you’re ordinarily a resident. Some of the free services include: consultations with your GP, treatment at Accident and Emergency (A&E), treatment at clinics, maternity care, treatment with a specialist, necessary dental care, hospital care, some long-term care, mental health care, among many others. Patients are also able to choose their own doctors, specialists and hospitals. The UK also has private insurance available, however only around 13% have it. UK residents tend to only have private healthcare when it’s offered by their employers, they want to avoid wait times or they want more control over treatments and better facilities. Private policies generally exclude mental health, maternity services, general practice and emergency care. You can also get private insurance for a single, specific procedure or treatment. However, it can be very expensive and is usually only done if the wait time through NHS is very long. 

Most of the NHS funding comes from general taxes. A smaller part, around 20%, comes from national insurance, which is a payroll tax paid by employees and employers. The NHS also receives income from copayments and people using NHS services as private patients. There is very little or no costs for publicly covered services. Services are free at the point of use for inpatient and outpatient services. There are very little out-of-pocket costs for GP visits and typically only apply in certain circumstances. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales no longer have charges for prescriptions. NHS England has a standard rate of £9 for all prescriptions, however there is no charge for prescriptions administrated in hospitals, clinics or by doctors. Also, there are some exemptions like those under 18, over 60, some medical conditions and contraceptives. Most out-of-pocket costs are for long-term care services and medical goods.  

The UK’s NHS system is generally considered among the best in the world; however, it is not perfect. While getting in to see your GP can sometimes be quick, seeing a specialist or non-emergency surgery can have very long wait times. Emergency rooms can also be overcrowded with a long wait. There are also concerns of it becoming under staffed and underfunded. However, UK citizens are very defensive of any criticism of the NHS. Due to the NHS, the UK has a high life expectancy and some of the lowest maternal and infant mortality rates. The National Health Service spends less than half of what Americans spend per person on health care and tends to have better outcomes. The NHS is often used as the example of a successful universal healthcare system.