If your family is anything like mine we have never accessed healthcare services more than since our children arrived. GPs were for annual checkups, specialist referrals and the odd prescription pre kids. Nowadays it seems a month doesn’t go past without a trip to the GP.. and I think I am quite relaxed about letting health issues resolve themselves when possible.
Knowing how to access health services in London before arriving will save you a considerable amount of stress if and when your children become ill or need emergency treatment.
I will cover those things I think are most important from a parents perspective on this post but you will find lots of practical information on this expat website also. I am assuming your visa/nationality entitles you to use the NHS however this is an important consideration worth checking.
The National Health Service (NHS) provides free health care in the UK for eligible residents i.e. there is no charge for seeing a GP or attending hospital for qualifying residents (you pay for it via your taxes). To see a specialist you must be referred by a GP.
You must register all family members with a local GP and obtain NHS numbers once you have organised where you are living. Usually there are a few choices but you are limited to this within a certain radius of where you live. I would go and check them out or ask around to find one that you prefer as they can vary quite a lot e.g. in terms size of practice, location, facilities etc. You cannot register for a GP near where you work or another more convenient place unfortunately. The process to register for a GP is quite well documented here.
Once you have registered with a GP and have an NHS number you can then access their services. A proportion of appointments are pre booked and the rest are booked on the morning of each working day (Mon – Fri) usually from 8am. This means you have to be organised to call at that time as the available appointments can be exhausted quite quickly. I found this quite confronting at first as our GP at home would take appointments at any time. However if it is your child that is ill I have found the GPs more than willing to do a phone consultation and refer you to other medical services if they think that is warranted. Eg we had a choking incident a few weeks ago in the late afternoon and our GP recommended we get an X-ray at accident and emergency.
Most British people are not used to paying for GP services and I have not met many people who would consider a private GP however this is always an option. Private GP services start from about £50 per consultation. We have done this a few times and found them extremely thorough. Personally, I am happy (and fortunate to have the option) to attend both NHS and private clinics depending on the situation.
Good to know
- children under 16 are entitled to free NHS prescriptions (there is a finite list) – more on prescriptions here.
- services such as physiotherapy and osteopathy are almost completely private and expensive or will require a long wait for referral
- read the fine print on your health insurance policies if offered as part of a transfer deal as these policies are very different from those in Australia (as an example)
- dentistry is not covered in the same way as other health services. To be honest I find it to be a bit of a mystery as only some services are covered by the NHS however there is more info here
- pregnancy services and hospital bed availability may be very different than in your home country. If you are pregnant do your research thoroughly so you know what to expect.
Lastly, if you or your child becomes ill before you have registered with a GP you will need to attend a walk in clinic if it is not an emergency.
Important numbers/contact information Emergency - 999 Urgent - 111 - for urgent but not critical assistance NHS Choices website
I hope this is helpful as I certainly have found this one of the more challenging aspects of our move to London. Please feel free to ask any questions.
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