If you are a tourist visiting the UK, you might wonder what is going to happen if you suddenly need medical assistance. In the UK, medical services are provided by the National Health Service (NHS), which is the umbrella term for the publicly funded healthcare systems of the United Kingdom, comprising the NHS in England, NHS Scotland and NHS Wales. Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland was created separately and is often locally referred to as ‘the NHS’. While there are some differences between the NHS in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all those healthcare systems are residence-based. This means that not everyone is entitled to free NHS hospital treatment. An overseas visitor is any person who is not 'ordinarily resident' in the UK.
Visiting the UK for purely medical reasons
In all four health systems in the UK, the Standard Visitor Visa allows you to visit the UK for up to 6 months to:
have private medical treatment at a hospital or other medical facility
have treatment at an NHS hospital, as long as the care is paid for by your own government under a reciprocal healthcare arrangement
donate an organ to a family member or close friend - this includes being assessed for suitability as a donor match
Accessing the NHS for visitors from a non-EEA country
If you're visiting England from outside the European Economic Area (EEA), even if you're a former UK resident, you might be charged for NHS secondary, unless an exemption from the charge category applies to either you or the treatment.
Make sure you're covered for healthcare through personal medical or travel insurance for all of your visit. You'll need to pay the full estimated cost in advance, unless this would prevent or delay treatment that a clinician determines is urgent. If so, you can pay afterwards.
Future immigration applications may be denied if you are subject to immigration control and do not pay for NHS treatment when a charge applies. Debts for NHS treatment of £500 or more, that have been unpaid for at least 2 months, might be reported to the Home Office.
Some NHS services or treatments are exempt from charges so that they're free to all (although prescription, dentistry and other charges may still apply). These include:
Accident and Emergency (A&E) services, this includes all A&E services provided at an NHS hospital, e.g. those provided at walk-in centres or urgent healthcare centres. This does not include those emergency services provided after the overseas visitor has been accepted as an inpatient, or at a follow-up outpatient appointment, for which charges must be levied unless the overseas visitor is exempt from charge in their own right
Services provided outside an NHS hospital, unless the staff providing the services are employed by, or working under the direction of, an NHS hospital
Family planning services (does not include termination of pregnancy)
Diagnosis and treatment of specified infectious diseases.
Diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections
Treatment required for a physical or mental condition caused by torture, female genital mutilation, domestic violence, sexual violence
If you require help with understanding your visitor visa conditions or you are considering applying for a visitor visa sponsor, contact us for professional advice.