The UK Health Care System
Healthcare in the UK is free to all citizens, registered long-term residents and members of the armed services who are serving abroad. It is one of the few countries, which provides a free walk in system of healthcare with very few supplementary charges.
The National Health Service (NHS)
The NHS is in charge of healthcare in the UK. The Department of Health centrally governs the NHS. Originally it consisted of one national organisation, which covered the whole of the country, but more recently, it has been decentralised into four independent organisations; one for each of the countries, which make up the United Kingdom. Each service has its own legislation, but each service will treat the needs of citizens from other parts of the UK.
Care trusts in charge of treatment policies, vaccination programmes and healthcare budgets run the NHS service.
The NHS is a free service to all residents of the UK, including members of the armed forces who are working abroad. British citizens who reside outside of the UK are subject to charges regardless of whether they have paid National Insurance contributions. The service is financed from mandatory national insurance taxation paid by employees directly from their salaries and supplemented by an obligatory contribution form employers. Self-employed persons have to pay the full contribution themselves. The onus is on the employer to deduct contributions from its employee’s wages. Dependant family members and vulnerable groups like the unemployed are exempt from contributions.
The UK has a relatively strong private healthcare sector, which is funded largely by private insurance contributions, but it is used only by a limited percentage of people, often as a top up to the basic state healthcare.
Private hospitals are owned by private companies. Contributions to private funds vary from person to person and are dependant on age, general health, and the existence of previously diagnosed diseases and the level of care required by each subscriber. Many companies offer their employees and their dependants’ private health insurance as a benefit of the job. BUPA and Nuffield Hospitals are the leading private hospital operators in the UK.
There are many incidences when private patients will be treated in an NHS hospital because the private hospital lacks the specialist equipment. In these cases, the private patient is given their own room and is treated before NHS patients. Emergency patients supersede all patients both private and NHS.
General Practitioners (GP's)
General practitioners provides basic general healthcare and are the first point of contact with the UK health system. GPs operate in practices, which consist of several other practitioners. They employ clerical staff to handle the daily running of the practice and nurses to deal with routine vaccination, health education, preventative care and maternity. Citizens are free to register with the GP of their choice. If you need to consult a doctor, you have to make an appointment at his practice or if you need urgent attention, you can call him to your home, attend the surgery on a speculative basis or visit your nearest emergency department.
GP's prescribe drugs, treat acute and chronic illnesses, and provide preventive care and health education. Some GP's also care for hospitalised patients, conduct minor surgery and obstetrics.