UK Healthcare for Migrants: Access & Rights

Foreign nationals coming to the UK will need to understand their rights to access healthcare services, but dealing with a new healthcare system can be challenging.

The National Health Service (NHS) is the UK’s public healthcare system. Established in 1948, the NHS is funded primarily through taxation and provides comprehensive healthcare services to UK residents, largely free at the point of use. This includes general practitioner (GP) services, hospital care, dental treatment, and mental health services. The system is praised for its universal coverage and accessibility, ensuring that everyone, regardless of their financial situation, can receive necessary medical care.

While some foreign nationals will be entitled to access the NHS by virtue of having paid the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge, others may have to pay for certain healthcare services in the UK.

In this guide, we explain the rules for foreign nationals accessing health services in the United Kingdom.


Section A: Immigration Health Surcharge


The Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS), is a fee imposed on foreign nationals applying for a visa to stay in the UK for more than six months. This surcharge is part of the visa application process and is designed to ensure that migrants contribute to the cost of the National Health Service (NHS) from which they will benefit during their stay.

Those who have paid the healthcare surcharge as part of their visa application are entitled to access the same range of NHS services as UK citizens, including essential treatments, specialist consultations, and emergency care.

Read our comprehensive guide to the Immigration Health Surcharge here >>


1. How much is the Immigration Health Surcharge?


The IHS is paid upfront, usually at the same time as the visa application.
The amount depends on the length of the visa being applied for and is calculated per year of the visa’s validity.

As of 2024, the standard IHS rate is £1,035 per year, with a discounted rate of £776 per year for students, those on Youth Mobility Scheme visas, and children under 18.


2. Who pays the IHS?


Not everyone needs to pay the surcharge. Those exempt include certain vulnerable groups, such as asylum seekers and victims of human trafficking. Additionally, individuals on specific visa types, like Health and Care Worker visa applicants, may also be exempt.


3. Benefits of IHS


Once the IHS is paid, migrants gain access to the full range of NHS services without any additional cost, similar to UK residents. This includes GP consultations, hospital treatments, emergency care, and mental health services.

The IHS ensures that migrants do not face unexpected medical bills and can access necessary health services, promoting better health and well-being.

Having access to comprehensive healthcare also reduces the financial burden of private medical insurance, making the UK a more attractive destination for international students, workers, and families.


Section 2: Eligibility to Access NHS Services


Anyone who is a resident in the UK, including migrants who have paid the healthcare surcharge, is generally eligible for NHS services without additional costs at the point of use. However, some exceptions and additional costs may apply, which migrants should be aware of to fully understand their entitlements and obligations.


1. NHS Services


The NHS covers a comprehensive array of services for eligible migrants. These services include:


a. General Practitioner (GP) Services: Migrants can register with a GP, who provides primary healthcare, routine check-ups, and referrals to specialist services if needed.

b. Hospital Care: This includes both inpatient and outpatient services, such as surgeries, treatments, and specialist consultations.

c. Emergency Services: Access to Accident & Emergency (A&E) departments for urgent and emergency medical situations is available without any charges.

d. Maternity Services: Comprehensive maternity care, from prenatal to postnatal services, is provided.

e. Mental Health Services: Access to mental health care, including counselling, therapy, and psychiatric services.

f. Dental and Optical Services: Some dental treatments and optical services are covered, though there may be additional charges for certain treatments and prescriptions.


2. Additional Health Costs


Despite the wide coverage of NHS services, there are exceptions and additional costs associated with certain NHS services. For example:


a. Prescriptions: While primary care and hospital treatments are free, there is typically a charge for prescription medications, unless the patient qualifies for an exemption based on age, income, or medical condition.

b. Dental Treatment: NHS dental care often requires co-payments, and some treatments might not be fully covered.

c. Optical Services: Basic eye tests may be free for certain groups, but glasses and contact lenses are usually paid for by the patient, with some support available for those eligible for financial assistance.

d. Non-urgent Treatment for Visitors: Migrants who have not paid the healthcare surcharge or are on short-term visas may only be entitled to emergency treatment. Non-urgent treatments might incur full costs.

e. Certain Specialist Treatments: Some specialist treatments or elective procedures may not be covered fully by the NHS and could require additional private payment.


Section C: Registering with a GP


Registering with a General Practitioner (GP) is an important step for foreign nationals living in the UK to access healthcare services in the UK. A GP is a primary care doctor who provides general medical care, refers patients to specialists, and is often the first point of contact for health concerns.


1. How to Register with a General Practitioner (GP)


To register with a GP, you need to follow these steps:


a. Identify a GP Practice: Start by finding a GP practice that is convenient for you, ideally near your home or workplace. You can use the NHS website to search for GP practices in your area.

b. Check Eligibility: Ensure that the practice is accepting new patients. Some practices may have a full patient list, so it’s important to check beforehand.

c. Complete the Registration Form: Once you’ve chosen a GP practice, you will need to complete a registration form, known as the GMS1 form. This form is available at the GP practice or can be downloaded from the NHS website.

d. Submit the Form: Take the completed form to the GP practice. Some practices also allow online registration through their websites.

e. Health Check: After registration, the practice may invite you for a new patient health check. This is to gather information about your medical history and current health status.


2. Documents Required for Registration


When registering with a GP, you will typically need to provide certain documents to confirm your identity and address. These may include:


a. Proof of Identity: A passport, driving license, or national identity card.

b. Proof of Address: A recent utility bill, bank statement, tenancy agreement, or council tax bill.

c. Healthcare Surcharge Receipt: Evidence of payment of the healthcare surcharge, if applicable, to show your entitlement to NHS services.


It is advisable to check with the GP practice in advance to confirm which documents they require, as requirements may vary slightly between practices.


3. Finding a GP in Your Area


Finding a GP in your area can be done through several methods:


a. NHS Website: The NHS website has a ‘Find GP services’ tool where you can enter your postcode to see a list of GP practices nearby. The tool provides details about the practice, including address, contact information, and whether they are accepting new patients.

b. Local Recommendations: Ask neighbours, friends, or colleagues for recommendations on local GP practices. Personal experiences can provide valuable insights into the quality of care and patient satisfaction.

c. NHS App: The NHS App allows you to find GP services, register with a practice, book appointments, and manage your healthcare online.

d. Visit GP Practices: If you prefer, you can visit GP practices in your area to pick up information leaflets and speak to the reception staff about the registration process and any questions you may have.


Section D: Accessing Specialist Healthcare Services


Accessing specialist services within the UK healthcare system is an important aspect of ensuring comprehensive medical care for migrants.


1. Referral Process for Specialist Care


To access specialist care through the NHS, you generally need a referral from a General Practitioner (GP). Here’s how the referral process typically works:


a. Initial GP Consultation: If you have a health concern that requires specialist attention, you will first visit your GP. The GP will assess your condition and determine if a referral to a specialist is necessary.


b. Referral Letter: If a referral is warranted, your GP will write a referral letter to the appropriate specialist. This letter will include your medical history, details of your condition, and the reason for the referral.


c. Choosing a Hospital or Specialist: In many cases, you have the right to choose which hospital or specialist you are referred to. Your GP can provide information on available options, or you can use the NHS website to research and select a suitable specialist.


d. Booking an Appointment: Once the referral is made, the hospital or specialist clinic will contact you to schedule an appointment. You may receive a letter, phone call, or email with the appointment details.


e. Consultation with Specialist: During your appointment with the specialist, further assessments, tests, or treatments will be planned based on your specific medical needs.


2. Types of Specialist Services Available


The NHS offers a wide range of specialist services to address various medical conditions. Some of the key types of specialist services include:


a. Cardiology: Heart-related issues, including diagnosis and treatment of heart diseases.

b. Dermatology: Skin conditions, including eczema, psoriasis, and skin cancer.

c. Endocrinology: Hormonal and metabolic disorders, such as diabetes and thyroid conditions.

d. Gastroenterology: Digestive system disorders, including conditions affecting the stomach, intestines, and liver.

e. Neurology: Nervous system disorders, including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease.

f. Oncology: Cancer diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care.

g. Orthopedics: Musculoskeletal system issues, including bone fractures, arthritis, and joint replacement.

h. Ophthalmology: Eye conditions and vision-related issues.

i. Psychiatry: Mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.

j. Rheumatology: Autoimmune diseases and musculoskeletal disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.


3. Waiting Times and Prioritisation


Waiting times for specialist services can vary depending on several factors, including the urgency of the condition, the type of specialist needed, and the specific hospital or clinic’s capacity. Here’s what you need to know about waiting times and prioritisation:


a. Urgent Referrals: For urgent cases, such as suspected cancer or severe cardiac conditions, referrals are prioritised, and appointments are usually scheduled within two weeks.

b. Routine Referrals: For non-urgent cases, waiting times can be longer, typically ranging from a few weeks to several months. The exact wait time can depend on the demand for specific services and the availability of specialists.

c. Referral to Treatment (RTT) Target: The NHS has set a standard that aims for patients to start treatment within 18 weeks of a GP referral. While this target is generally met, actual waiting times can sometimes exceed this period, especially in areas with high demand or staffing shortages.

d. Prioritisation Criteria: Patients are prioritised based on the severity of their condition. More urgent cases are seen sooner, while less critical cases may experience longer waits. Your GP and the specialist will assess the urgency of your condition to determine prioritisation.

e. Communication: It’s important to maintain communication with your GP and the specialist’s office. If your condition worsens while waiting for an appointment, inform your GP, as this may lead to a reassessment of your referral’s urgency.


Section E: Emergency and Urgent Care


Accessing emergency and urgent care services in the UK is essential knowledge for migrants to ensure they receive appropriate medical attention when needed.


1. When and How to Use Emergency Services


Emergency services should be used for life-threatening conditions or serious injuries that require immediate medical attention. These can include:


a. Severe chest pain or suspected heart attack

b. Breathing difficulties or severe asthma attack

c. Severe bleeding that cannot be stopped

d. Head injuries with loss of consciousness

e. Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis)

f. Suspected stroke (sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body)

g. Severe burns or scalds

h. Acute mental health crises


In these situations, you should call 999 immediately for an ambulance. The emergency operator will dispatch medical personnel to your location to provide urgent care and transport you to the nearest hospital if necessary.

If you are able to safely get to an A&E department yourself, you can do so, but for severe conditions, it’s often best to wait for an ambulance.


2. Accident & Emergency (A&E) Departments


A&E departments are hospital-based services designed to handle the most serious medical emergencies. They are open 24/7 and equipped with the necessary staff and equipment to deal with life-threatening conditions. When you arrive at A&E, you will be assessed by a triage nurse who determines the urgency of your condition and prioritises your care accordingly.


3. Urgent Care Centres


Urgent care centres, sometimes known as walk-in centres or minor injury units, are designed to treat non-life-threatening conditions that still require prompt attention. These centres are usually open outside of regular GP hours, including evenings and weekends, and do not require an appointment. Conditions typically treated at urgent care centres include:


a. Minor fractures and sprains

b. Cuts and lacerations requiring stitches

c. Minor burns and scalds

d. Infections and rashes

e. Ear, nose, and throat problems

f. Flu-like symptoms


4. Alternatives to A&E for Non-Life-Threatening Issues


For non-life-threatening medical issues, there are several alternatives to A&E that can provide appropriate care:


a. General Practitioner (GP): For non-urgent medical concerns, your GP should be your first point of contact. GPs can provide consultations, prescribe medication, and refer you to specialists if needed. Most GP practices offer same-day appointments for urgent cases.

b. NHS 111: This is a non-emergency medical helpline available 24/7. By calling 111 or visiting the NHS 111 online service, you can get advice on your symptoms and be directed to the most appropriate service. This might include arranging a GP appointment, directing you to an urgent care centre, or advising on self-care.

c. Pharmacies: Pharmacists can provide advice and treatment for a range of minor illnesses and conditions, such as colds, coughs, sore throats, and minor skin conditions. Many pharmacies also offer over-the-counter medications and can advise if you need to see a GP or other healthcare provider.

d. Minor Injury Units (MIUs): Similar to urgent care centres, MIUs can treat minor injuries and ailments. They are typically staffed by nurse practitioners who can handle conditions like minor cuts, fractures, and burns.

e. Self-Care: For very minor issues, such as a cold or mild headache, self-care at home might be the best option. Over-the-counter medications and rest can often suffice. NHS websites provide a wealth of information on self-care for various conditions.


4. Which Health Service to Use?


By understanding the different levels of care available and when to use each service, you can ensure you receive the right care promptly and efficiently while also helping to reduce the strain on A&E departments:


a. A&E: Use for life-threatening emergencies only.

b. Urgent Care Centres and MIUs: Use for non-life-threatening conditions that still require prompt treatment.

c. GP Services: Use for ongoing health issues, routine care, and non-urgent medical concerns.

d. NHS 111: Use for medical advice and guidance on the appropriate service to use.

e. Pharmacies: Use for advice and treatment of minor ailments and over-the-counter medication.


Section E: Dental and Optical Care


Dental and optical care are important aspects of healthcare that migrants in the UK should understand in order to maintain overall health and well-being.


1. NHS Dental Services


NHS dental services are available to ensure that everyone can receive essential dental care at an affordable cost. Here’s what migrants need to know:

Unlike GP services, you do not need to register with a dental practice. However, it is advisable to find an NHS dentist and inform them that you wish to receive NHS dental care.

You can find an NHS dentist through the NHS website or by contacting local dental practices directly to check if they are accepting new NHS patients.
NHS dental services are not free for most adults. Certain groups, such as children under 18 (or under 19 if in full-time education), pregnant women, and those receiving specific benefits, may be exempt from charges.

There are three standard charge bands for NHS dental treatment:


a. Band 1 £26.80: Covers examination, diagnosis, and advice, including X-rays, a scale and polish, and preventive care.
b. Band 2 £73.50: Includes all treatments covered by Band 1, plus additional procedures such as fillings, root canal treatment, and tooth extractions.
c. Band 3 £319.10: Covers all treatments in Bands 1 and 2, plus more complex procedures like crowns, dentures, and bridges.


2. Optical Care Services and Subsidies


Optical care is crucial for maintaining good vision and overall eye health.

Regular eye tests are important for detecting vision problems and eye conditions early. The NHS provides free eye tests for specific groups, including children under 16, or under 19 if in full-time education, people aged 60 and over, those with certain medical conditions like diabetes or glaucoma and individuals receiving specific benefits e.g., Income Support, Universal Credit.

If you are eligible for a free NHS eye test, you may also qualify for optical vouchers to help with the cost of glasses or contact lenses. The value of the voucher depends on the strength of the prescription and can be used towards the cost of standard glasses or contact lenses.

You can access optical services through opticians, many of whom offer both NHS and private services. You can find a list of local opticians on the NHS website or by visiting optician chains and independent practices.


3. Private vs. NHS Dental and Optical Services


The choice between NHS and private services depends on individual needs, preferences, and financial considerations. For essential and routine care, NHS services are typically sufficient and cost-effective. For specialist treatments, cosmetic procedures, or faster access, private services may be preferred.

NHS dental and optical services are generally more affordable, with set charges for treatments and subsidised costs for eligible individuals. NHS services also tend to focus on providing necessary and clinically appropriate treatments. Access to NHS services may also be limited by the availability of dentists and opticians accepting new NHS patients.

By comparison, private dental and optical services can be significantly more expensive, with costs varying widely depending on the provider and the complexity of the treatment. Private practices may offer a broader range of treatments and services, including cosmetic dentistry (e.g., teeth whitening veneers) and advanced optical treatments (e.g., laser eye surgery). Private services often have shorter waiting times for appointments and treatments, providing faster access to care. Private providers tend to offer more personalised care, greater flexibility in appointment scheduling, and additional amenities.


Section F: Mental Health Services


In the UK, mental health support is widely recognised as an essential component of overall healthcare. The NHS provides a range of mental health services designed to support individuals experiencing mental health issues, from mild anxiety and depression to more severe conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. These services are available through the NHS and various charitable organisations.


1. Types of Mental Health Services Available


A broad range of mental health services are available in the UK, including:


a. Primary Care: General Practitioners (GPs) are often the first point of contact for individuals experiencing mental health issues. They can provide initial assessments, prescribe medication, and refer patients to specialist services.

b. Talking Therapies: The NHS offers access to talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), counselling, and psychotherapy. These services can be accessed through the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme.

c. Community Mental Health Teams (CMHTs): These teams consist of various mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, and social workers, who provide comprehensive support for individuals with severe mental health conditions.

d. Crisis Services: For individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, the NHS provides crisis resolution and home treatment teams that offer intensive support and treatment at home to avoid hospitalisation.

e. Inpatient Services: For those requiring more intensive care, inpatient services are available in mental health hospitals or dedicated wards within general hospitals.

f. Specialist Services: These include services for specific groups such as children and adolescents (CAMHS), older adults, those with eating disorders, and individuals with substance misuse issues.


2. How to Access Mental Health Services


Accessing mental health services typically begins with a GP referral, though self-referral options are available for certain therapies:


a. GP Referral: The most common way to access mental health services is through a referral from your GP. During your appointment, the GP will assess your condition and, if necessary, refer you to the appropriate mental health service or specialist.

b. Self-Referral: For some services, such as IAPT, individuals can self-refer without needing a GP referral. This can be done by contacting the service directly, either online or by phone.

c. Emergency Help: In a mental health crisis, you can access immediate help by going to A&E, calling emergency services (999), or contacting a crisis helpline like the Samaritans (116 123).

d. Charitable Organisations: Various mental health charities, such as Mind, Rethink Mental Illness, and SANE, offer support, helplines, and resources that can be accessed directly.


3. Confidentiality and Rights in Mental Health Care


Patient confidentiality is a key principle within UK healthcare, ensuring patients feel safe and supported. The following legal provisions typically apply:


a. Confidentiality: Confidentiality is a cornerstone of mental health care in the UK. Information about your mental health and treatment is kept confidential and is only shared with your consent, except in cases where there is a risk of harm to yourself or others.

b. Data Protection: Your personal information is protected under the Data Protection Act 2018 and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This means your data is securely stored and only used for the purposes of your treatment and care.

c. Informed Consent: You have the right to be fully informed about your treatment options and to give or withhold consent for treatments. Health professionals are required to explain the benefits, risks, and alternatives to proposed treatments.

d. Right to Access Records: You have the right to access your medical records, including information about your mental health treatment. This can be done by making a formal request to the healthcare provider.

e. Advocacy Services: Independent advocacy services are available to support you in making decisions about your mental health care and to ensure your rights are respected. Advocates can help you understand your options, attend appointments with you, and assist in communicating with healthcare providers.

f. Complaints: If you are unhappy with the care you receive, you have the right to make a complaint. This can be done through the NHS complaints procedure, and you can seek support from advocacy services to help with the process.


Section G: Maternity and Child Healthcare


Maternity services in the UK are designed to provide comprehensive care throughout pregnancy, childbirth, and the postnatal period to ensure the health and well-being of both mothers and children. These services are accessible to all women, including foreign nationals who have paid the healthcare surcharge as part of their visa application.

For children, the NHS offers routine health checks, dental care, and a vaccination schedule to protect against various diseases.


1. Antenatal Care


Once a pregnancy is confirmed, the first step is to book an appointment with a midwife or GP. This usually happens between 8-12 weeks of pregnancy.

Regular antenatal appointments are then scheduled throughout the pregnancy to monitor the health of both mother and baby. These include blood tests, urine tests, blood pressure checks, and fetal heartbeat monitoring.

Two primary ultrasound scans are offered – one at around 12 weeks (dating scan) to estimate the due date and another at around 20 weeks (anomaly scan) to check for structural abnormalities in the baby.

Migrant women will also receive education on healthy pregnancy practices, nutrition, and preparation for childbirth.

Most women choose to give birth in a hospital where a range of pain relief options and emergency care are available. For low-risk pregnancies, midwifery-led units offer a more homely environment with less medical intervention.

Some women opt for a home birth, attended by midwives if it is deemed safe by healthcare professionals.

After birth, women receive care in the hospital or at home to ensure their recovery and the baby’s health.

Midwives visit the home in the first few weeks after birth to provide support, perform health checks, and offer breastfeeding advice.

Around 10-14 days post-birth, care is handed over to a health visitor who continues to support the mother and baby.


2. Child Healthcare Provisions


The NHS provides extensive healthcare services for children, ensuring their physical and developmental health needs are met from birth onwards.


a. Routine Health Checks:

1. Newborn Examination: Within 72 hours of birth, a full physical examination is conducted to check the baby’s heart, hips, eyes, and testes in boys.
2. Newborn Hearing Screening: Conducted shortly after birth to detect any hearing issues.
3. 6-8 Week Check: A follow-up check with the GP to assess the baby’s growth and development.
4. Developmental Reviews: Regular reviews by health visitors at various stages (9-12 months, 2-2.5 years) to monitor developmental milestones.
5. Vision Screening: Usually performed at around 4-5 years old to check for vision problems.


b. Common Health Services:

1. GP Visits: For routine illnesses, vaccinations, and general health concerns, parents can take their children to the GP.
2. Specialist Care: If needed, children are referred to paediatricians or other specialists for specific health conditions.


c. Dental Care:

1. First Dental Visit: It’s recommended that children see a dentist by the age of one, with regular check-ups thereafter.
2. NHS Dental Services: Available free of charge for children under 18 (or under 19 if in full-time education).


d. Important Vaccinations and Checks: The NHS provides a comprehensive childhood immunisation schedule to protect children from various serious diseases.


Section H: Common Challenges Accessing Healthcare in the UK


Migrants in the UK may face several challenges when accessing healthcare services, including language barriers, understanding their rights, and knowing where to seek help and advice. However, there are effective solutions and resources available to address these issues.

Migrants in the UK may face challenges such as language barriers and understanding their healthcare rights, but there are numerous solutions and resources available to help overcome these obstacles. Interpreting services, multilingual materials, and cultural sensitivity training help address language barriers. Understanding your rights and advocating for yourself are crucial steps in ensuring you receive appropriate care. Various resources, including the NHS website, community organisations, charities, and healthcare providers, are available to provide help and advice, ensuring that migrants can navigate the healthcare system effectively and access the services they need.


1. Overcoming Language Barriers


One of the most significant challenges for migrants is the language barrier. Not being fluent in English can make it difficult to communicate with healthcare providers, understand medical information, and navigate the healthcare system. To overcome this, the NHS provides several resources.

Interpreting services are widely available across NHS facilities. These services include face-to-face interpreters and telephone interpreting, ensuring that patients can communicate effectively with healthcare providers. If you need an interpreter, it is essential to request one when booking your appointment or upon arrival at the healthcare facility.

Many NHS informational materials, including leaflets and online resources, are available in multiple languages. These materials cover a wide range of health topics and provide valuable information about accessing services and understanding treatment options.

Healthcare providers are trained to be aware of cultural sensitivities and to provide care that respects the diverse backgrounds of their patients. This helps create a more inclusive and understanding healthcare environment.

In some cases, it may be beneficial to bring a trusted family member or friend who speaks English to medical appointments. However, professional interpreters are preferred to ensure accuracy and confidentiality.


2. Understanding Your Rights and Advocating for Yourself


Understanding your rights within the UK healthcare system is crucial for ensuring that you receive the care you are entitled to. All patients have the right to access healthcare services without discrimination, to be treated with dignity and respect, and to receive clear and understandable information about their health and treatment options.

It is important to be proactive in seeking information about your healthcare rights. The NHS website and other reputable sources provide comprehensive information about patient rights, including access to care, consent, and confidentiality.

If you feel that your rights are not being respected or that you are not receiving appropriate care, it is important to advocate for yourself. This can involve asking questions, requesting further explanations, or seeking a second opinion. Don’t hesitate to speak up if you do not understand something or if you feel uncomfortable with a particular aspect of your care.

There are also advocacy services available to support patients in navigating the healthcare system. These services can provide advice, represent your interests in discussions with healthcare providers, and help you understand and exercise your rights. Independent advocacy services are available through various organisations, including local councils and charitable groups.


3. Help and Advice


Knowing where to seek help and advice is vital for addressing any challenges you may encounter within the healthcare system. There are numerous resources available to migrants to assist with healthcare needs and to provide guidance and support.

The NHS website is a comprehensive resource that offers detailed information on a wide range of health topics, services, and patient rights. It also provides tools for finding local healthcare providers, such as GPs, dentists, and hospitals.

Local community organisations and support groups can be valuable sources of information and assistance. Many of these organisations focus on specific communities or health issues and can provide tailored support, including help with understanding healthcare options, navigating services, and accessing interpreters.

Charities and non-governmental organisations, such as Citizens Advice, Mind, and Migrant Help, offer specialised support and advice for migrants. These organisations can assist with a variety of issues, including healthcare access, legal rights, mental health support, and more.

GPs and other healthcare providers can also be excellent sources of advice. They can offer guidance on accessing services, explain your treatment options, and refer you to additional support services if needed.
Finally, the NHS 111 service provides 24/7 non-emergency medical advice and guidance. By calling 111 or using the online service, you can get advice on your symptoms, find out where to go for treatment, and access information about healthcare services.


Section I: Summary


Understanding your rights and advocating for yourself can significantly impact your healthcare experience in the UK and ensure you receive the care you need.

As soon as you settle in the UK, register with a local GP to ensure you have access to primary care and can get referrals to specialist services when needed.

If language is a barrier, request interpreting services at healthcare appointments to ensure clear communication with your healthcare providers, and reach out to organisations like Migrant Help, Citizens Advice, and community health centres for support and guidance.


Section J: FAQs


What is the healthcare surcharge, and why do I need to pay it?
The healthcare surcharge is a fee that migrants must pay as part of their visa application to access the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). This surcharge ensures that you can use the NHS just like a permanent resident, covering most healthcare services at no additional cost.


Who is required to pay the healthcare surcharge?
Most migrants coming to the UK for more than six months need to pay the healthcare surcharge, including students, workers, and family members of visa holders. Some exceptions apply, such as certain vulnerable groups and those on specific visa types.


How do I register with a GP?
To register with a GP, visit your local GP practice and complete a registration form. You will need to provide identification and proof of address, such as a utility bill or tenancy agreement. Some practices also allow online registration.


What documents do I need to register with a GP?
Typically, you will need to provide a valid form of identification and proof of address (utility bill, bank statement, or tenancy agreement). Check with your local GP practice for their specific requirements.


Can I access specialist services without a GP referral?
In most cases, you need a referral from your GP to access specialist services. The GP will assess your condition and refer you to the appropriate specialist if necessary.


How do I overcome language barriers in healthcare settings?
The NHS provides interpreting services, including face-to-face and telephone interpreters. You can request an interpreter when booking your appointment or upon arrival at the healthcare facility. Additionally, many informational materials are available in multiple languages.


What should I do in a medical emergency?
In a medical emergency, you should go to the nearest Accident & Emergency (A&E) department or call 999 for an ambulance. For non-life-threatening urgent care, you can visit an urgent care centre or call NHS 111 for advice.


Are dental and optical services covered by the NHS?
NHS dental services are available but may require co-payment for some treatments. Children under 18 (or under 19 in full-time education) receive free dental care. Optical services are partially covered, with free eye tests for certain groups and vouchers for glasses or contact lenses for eligible individuals.


How can I access mental health services?
You can access mental health services through your GP, who can refer you to the appropriate services. For some services, such as talking therapies, you can self-refer. Charities like Mind also provide mental health support and resources.


What vaccinations are important for my child?
Key vaccinations for children include those for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, Haemophilus influenzae type b, hepatitis B, rotavirus, meningococcal groups, pneumococcal infections, measles, mumps, and rubella. The NHS provides a comprehensive immunisation schedule to ensure your child is protected.


Where can I seek help and advice about healthcare as a migrant?
Useful resources include the NHS website, NHS 111 helpline, Migrant Help, Citizens Advice, Refugee Council, and community health services. These organisations offer support, guidance, and information on accessing healthcare and understanding your rights.


What are my rights as a patient in the UK?
As a patient, you have the right to access healthcare services without discrimination, be treated with dignity and respect, receive clear and understandable information about your health and treatment options, and maintain confidentiality. You also have the right to make complaints and seek advocacy support if needed.


Section K: Glossary


A&E (Accident & Emergency): A hospital department that provides immediate treatment for acute illnesses and injuries. In the UK, A&E departments are also referred to as Emergency Departments (ED).

Antenatal Care: Healthcare provided to pregnant women to monitor their health and the health of their unborn baby. This includes routine check-ups, tests, and scans.

GP (General Practitioner): A primary care doctor who treats a wide range of health issues and provides ongoing care. GPs are the first point of contact for non-emergency medical issues and can refer patients to specialists.

Healthcare Surcharge: A fee paid by migrants as part of their visa application to access the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). It ensures that migrants can use NHS services during their stay in the UK.

Interpreter: A person who translates spoken or signed language from one language to another. In healthcare, interpreters help patients communicate with medical staff when there is a language barrier.

Mental Health Services: Healthcare services that provide support, treatment, and care for individuals experiencing mental health issues. These services include counselling, therapy, medication, and inpatient care.

Midwifery-Led Unit: A birthing centre run by midwives that offers a homely environment for childbirth with less medical intervention. Suitable for low-risk pregnancies.

NHS 111: A non-emergency medical helpline in the UK that provides advice and information about healthcare services. Available 24/7 via phone or online.

NHS (National Health Service): The publicly funded healthcare system in the UK that provides a wide range of medical services to residents, including GP services, hospital care, and emergency treatment.

Optical Care: Services related to eye health, including eye examinations, vision tests, and the provision of glasses or contact lenses. NHS optical services include free eye tests and subsidies for eligible individuals.

Postnatal Care: Healthcare provided to women and their newborns after childbirth. This includes home visits by midwives, health checks, and support with breastfeeding and recovery.

Referral: The process by which a GP or other primary care provider directs a patient to a specialist or other medical service for further treatment or investigation.

Vaccination: A medical procedure that involves the administration of a vaccine to stimulate the body’s immune response against specific diseases. Vaccinations are an essential part of child healthcare.

Health Visitor: A registered nurse or midwife who works in the community to promote public health, particularly for families with young children. They provide support and advice on child development, health, and parenting.

Interpreter Services: Services that provide language translation for non-English speaking patients in healthcare settings. This ensures clear communication between patients and healthcare providers.

Maternity Services: Healthcare services provided to women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postnatal period. These include antenatal care, delivery services, and postnatal care.

Citizens Advice: A network of independent charities in the UK that provide free, confidential advice on various issues, including healthcare, housing, employment, and immigration.



Section L: Useful Resources


NHS Website

This comprehensive website provides detailed information on various health topics, services, and patient rights. It includes tools to find local healthcare providers such as GPs, dentists, and hospitals.


NHS Inform
For those in Scotland, this website provides information on health services, conditions, treatments, and local healthcare options.


NHS Direct Wales
This service offers health advice and information for residents of Wales, including details on healthcare services and how to access them.


For Northern Ireland, this website provides information on health and social care services, including how to find local services and patient rights.


Migrant Help
This organisation offers support and advice to migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. Services include assistance with healthcare access, legal advice, and integration support.


Citizens Advice
Provides free, confidential advice on a wide range of issues, including healthcare, housing, employment, and immigration. Local branches offer face-to-face support.


Refugee Council
Offers support and advocacy for refugees and asylum seekers, including help with accessing healthcare services and understanding rights.


This mental health charity provides information and support for those experiencing mental health issues, including migrants. They offer helplines, online resources, and local support services.



Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

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