The National Health Service (NHS) plays an important role as the public healthcare system of the UK. Yet, some people have questions about their eligibility for free hospital treatment under the NHS. This can also be a worrisome subject for visitors and expats who are not official citizens.
Anyone deemed to be ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK is entitled to free NHS hospital treatment in England. Those who are subjected to the National Health Service (Charges to Overseas Visitors) Regulations of 2011, they must be aware that these regulations place a responsibility on NHS hospitals to establish whether a person is ordinarily resident, or exempt from charges under one of many exemption categories, or liable for charges.
One should also know that the Nationality or past or present payments of UK taxes and National Insurance contributions are not taken into consideration when establishing residence. The only thing relevant is whether one ordinarily lives in the UK.
How does one know if they have to pay?
Regulations state that the hospital providing treatment is responsible for establishing whether a person is entitled to free NHS hospital treatment or not. The hospital makes the decision in accordance with the regulations and can ask to provide evidence to support any claim to free treatment. In case the hospital decides that one is not eligible for free NHS treatment, then it is the responsibility of the patient to pay statutory NHS charges like prescription charges unless they are exempted on some other grounds.
What happens if one does not meet one of the exemptions from charges?
If one is not ordinarily resident or exempted under the regulations, charges will apply for any hospital treatment and these cannot be waived. In such cases, it is recommended that one purchase private medical insurance that provides cover for the length of stay in the UK.
What does one have to pay for?
All treatment given by staff at a hospital or by staff employed by a hospital may be subject to charges. The following exceptions are free for everyone:
- Treatment given in an accident and emergency department (excludes emergency treatment given elsewhere in the hospital)
- Treatment given in a walk-in centre providing similar services to those of an accident and emergency department of a hospital
- Treatment for certain communicable diseases (excluding HIV/AIDS where it is only the first diagnosis and connected counselling sessions that are free)
- Compulsory psychiatric treatment
- Family planning services
It is recommended that a person have all necessary documents handy to prove their eligibility when they seek free hospital treatment under the NHS in the UK.