Depending on your ailment, your GP – General Practitioner – will authorize a hospital referral or will send you to a specialist who will start the admission process for you. You will then get a letter at your home address stating what you should bring and when to present yourself to the specific ward. Usually, you do not need to bring any other paper work than your National Insurance number. On admission you will have to fill in a form which you hand in directly to the nurse. Note that hospitals are made of wards and it is very unusual to have a room to yourself.
There are three types of hospital admissions categories and the assistance you require will depend on the health problem you are experiencing. For all planned hospital visits, your GP will have given you a referral and will explain the precise admissions process for your particular case.
Outpatient – If your GP has referred you to a specialist at a hospital the appointment is automatically done by the GP surgery and then process is the same. Outpatients do not stay overnight. From the patient’s visit onwards the specialist takes over the case and will send the final results to the GP when the case is closed.
Day Patient – If you require tests or surgery but do not need to remain in hospital overnight your case will be classified as ‘day patient’. A day patient comes in for a more involved procedure than an outpatient. The day patient may need some recovery time but you should be able to go home on the same day.
The procedure is the same.
Inpatient – If you are required to stay overnight in hospital for tests or surgery you will be given a bed in a hospital.
All major London hospitals have Accident & Emergency (A&E) departments. Expect an A&E doctor to admit you to hospital if you suffer from a live threatening condition. To find an A&E near you consult NHS direct: http://www.nhs.uk/Service-Search. If you have been injured or are suffering from a health condition needing immediate attention, go to your closest hospital. You will not be refused treatment, even if you do not have a National Insurance number. The A&E receptionist will ask for you name and address, contact details of next of kin, your date of birth and name of GP if you have one.
The British Medical Association (http://www.bma.org.uk) is an excellent resource for information on the hospital admission process. Another useful website is http://www.visitlondon.com/travel/medical-services
Your entitlement to free NHS treatment depends on the length and purpose of your residence in the UK, not your nationality. There is no qualifying period to receive treatment providing that you are entitled to it.
There may be charges for some NHS services, for example, your dental treatment, and you may be entitled to help with these charges. Any free NHS treatment you receive, or any help with NHS costs, does not affect your immigration status. Note that treatment in A&E and in Accident & Emergency only will never be refused even if the patient has no means and can’t pay in advance.
If you have to pay for treatment (excluding A&E which is free for all) because you do not meet the residence conditions, hospitals accept cheques, cards, cash and patients have to pay in advance. If a patient is unable to pay, the hospital will ask for a written undertaking to pay. If you cannot provide proof that you can afford to pay, treatment will be refused and you may be offered the chance to be treated privately.
However, you must be given clear information about charges in a way you understand. This could include providing information in a foreign language or an interpreter, if necessary. If you aren’t given clear information, this could be considered discrimination and you have the right to complain about it.
Some hospital treatment is free of charge for everyone who needs it, regardless of how long they have been or intend to stay in the UK.
Treatment which is always free of charge:
- treatment for accidents and emergencies as an outpatient in a hospital’s accident and emergency department. Emergency treatment in a walk-in centre is also free of charge (England and Wales only). However, if you are referred to an outpatient clinic or admitted to hospital from an accident and emergency department, you will be charged
- compulsory psychiatric treatment
- treatment for certain communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis, cholera, food poisoning, malaria, meningitis and pandemic influenza. Testing for the HIV virus and counselling following a test are both free of charge, but any necessary subsequent treatment and medicines may have to be paid for
- family planning services.
Who can receive all NHS treatment free of charge?
Some people from abroad can receive all NHS hospital treatment free of charge. If you are entitled to free NHS hospital treatment, your spouse, civil partner and dependent child(ren) will also be able to receive free treatment, but only if they live with you permanently in the UK.
You can receive free NHS hospital treatment if you:
- have been living legally in the UK for at least 12 months when you seek treatment, and did not come to the UK for private medical treatment. Temporary absences from the UK of up to three months are ignored
- have come to the UK to take up permanent residence, for example, if you are a former UK resident who has returned from abroad, or if you have been granted leave to enter or remain as a spouse
- have come to the UK to work, either as an employee or self-employed person. This does not include people on short business trips
- normally work in the UK, but are temporarily working abroad, have at least 10 years continuous residence in the UK, and have been abroad for less than 5. However, if you are studying abroad you are not entitled to free NHS treatment
Patients may be asked to show their passport to make sure that they are not illegal immigrants. Any other document necessary will be stated in the letter sent to the patient prior to appointment.