Accessing healthcare services in the UK can be a challenging task for migrants, especially those who are unfamiliar with the country’s healthcare system. The UK government provides guidance to healthcare practitioners on the health needs of migrant patients. However, many migrants and refugees may not be aware of their entitlements to healthcare services. This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, including information on entitlements, registration, and payment, specifically tailored to the needs of migrants. By understanding the NHS, migrants can access the healthcare services they need and deserve.

NHS – government-funded healthcare system

The National Health Service (NHS) is a government-funded healthcare system in England. It is a complex system made up of a wide range of different organizations with different roles, responsibilities, and specialties that provide a variety of services and support to patients and carers. The NHS is guided by three principles: that it be universal, comprehensive, and free at the point of delivery. In addition, the NHS Constitution for England guarantees that the principles and values which underpin the NHS are subject to regular renewal.

To be eligible for the National Honor Society (NHS), students must have a 3.5 GPA or higher and give back to their community. The requirements for NHS membership may vary by chapter, but all chapters follow national standards based on four pillars: scholarship, service, leadership, and character. Each chapter is required to publish its own qualifications for membership based on these four pillars. Deadlines to apply for local NHS chapters are determined by each chapter, and only students who are sophomores, juniors, or seniors are eligible to apply. As of right now, students who are homeschooled are not eligible for NHS membership, even at their local high school chapters.

NHS Services and What They Provide

The NHS provides a wide range of services to patients, including:

  • GP appointments and services: General Practitioners (GPs) are the first point of contact for most patients seeking medical advice or treatment. They provide a range of services, including diagnosis, treatment, and referrals to specialists if necessary.
  • Hospital care: The NHS provides both emergency and planned hospital care, including Accident and Emergency (A&E) services, maternity services, and planned treatments such as surgery.
  • Community health services: These services are provided by district nurses and health visitors who work in the community to provide care and support to patients in their homes. They provide a range of services, including wound care, medication management, and support for patients with long-term conditions.
  • Mental health services: The NHS provides a range of mental health services, including therapy and counseling, psychiatric care, and support for patients with mental health conditions.
  • Prescriptions: The NHS provides prescription services, which allow patients to obtain medication prescribed by their GP or specialist. Patients may be required to pay a fee for their prescriptions, depending on their circumstances.
  • Dental/optical care: The NHS provides dental and optical care services, including routine check-ups, treatments, and referrals to specialists if necessary.

Registering with a GP Practice

To register with a GP practice in England, you can follow these steps:

  • Find your local GP practice: You can use the NHS Service Directory or other online resources to find a GP practice near you.
  • Complete the registration form: Once you have chosen a GP practice, you will need to fill out a registration form. These forms are usually available on the surgery’s website, or you can pick one up at the surgery. You can also download a Family doctor services registration form (GMS1) from GOV.UK, fill it in and hand it to the surgery.
  • Submit the form: You can submit the registration form in person or online, depending on the GP practice’s requirements. Some GP surgeries ask for supporting documentation, such as proof of ID or address, to help find your medical records or confirm that you live in the surgery’s area. However, it is not necessary to provide these documents to register with a GP practice.

Accessing Other NHS Services

Accessing Other NHS Services:

  • Getting referrals from GP for specialized care: Patients may need a referral from their GP to access specialized care, such as seeing a specialist or receiving certain treatments. The GP will assess the patient’s needs and determine if a referral is necessary.
  • Applying for an NHS number to access broader services: An NHS number is a unique identifier that allows patients to access a wide range of NHS services. Patients can apply for an NHS number by contacting their local GP practice or by calling the NHS number helpline.
  • Urgent care options like walk-in centers and A&E: Patients who require urgent medical attention can access a range of services, including walk-in centers, minor injuries units, and Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments. Patients can call NHS 111 for advice on which service to use, or they can go directly to their nearest A&E department if they require immediate medical attention.

Understanding the Costs

  • Most NHS services are free for those eligible: The majority of NHS services in Scotland are provided free of charge, including GP practices, local pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, emergency services, eye examinations, and dental examinations. In England, most NHS services are free at the point of delivery for those eligible, including GP appointments, hospital care, community health services, and mental health services.
  • Prescription, dental, and optical costs: Patients may need to pay for certain NHS services, such as prescription charges, dental treatments, and glasses or contact lenses. The cost of these services may vary depending on a patient’s circumstances, such as their age, income, and residency status.
  • Exemptions and help available based on income: Some patients may be exempt from paying NHS costs, depending on their circumstances, such as if they are under 16 years old, over 60 years old, pregnant, or have certain medical conditions. Patients who are not exempt may be able to receive help with NHS costs based on their income, such as through the NHS Low Income Scheme. Patients can check what help they may be eligible for and how to apply using the NHS Business Services Authority website.

Navigating the System as a Migrant

Navigating the healthcare system as a migrant can present certain challenges, including language and cultural barriers, difficulty understanding eligibility for services, and unfamiliarity with the healthcare system in the UK. Here are some tips to help migrants access care more easily:

  • Seek information and guidance: Familiarize yourself with the NHS entitlements for migrants in England. The GOV.UK website provides a migrant health guide that explains how the NHS operates and outlines the entitlements to NHS services for migrants. Additionally, organizations like Doctors of the World and the Refugee Council offer resources and support for migrants navigating the healthcare system.
  • Language support: Language barriers can make it difficult to communicate with healthcare providers. If you require language assistance, inquire about interpreter services provided by the NHS or seek help from community organizations that offer language support.
  • Register with a GP: Registering with a GP practice is important for accessing primary healthcare services. Find a GP practice near you and complete the registration process. You may need to provide proof of identification and address, but it is not necessary to provide these documents to register with a GP practice.
  • Understand emergency care options: Familiarize yourself with the options for urgent care, such as walk-in centers and Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments. In case of emergencies, you can call NHS 111 for advice on which service to use or go directly to your nearest A&E department.
  • Seek support from migrant organizations: Migrant organizations can provide valuable guidance and support in navigating the healthcare system. They can help you understand your rights, provide information on local healthcare systems, and assist with any challenges you may encounter.

Knowing Your Rights

The NHS Constitution sets out the rights and responsibilities of patients, public, and staff in England. Some of the key rights that patients have under the NHS Constitution include:

  • The right to receive NHS services free of charge, apart from certain limited exceptions sanctioned by Parliament.
  • The right to expect good quality services from the NHS, including access to health services, monitoring and improvement of healthcare quality, and the right to make decisions about medical tests and treatment.
  • The right to be involved in decisions about your care and to be treated with kindness, dignity, and respect by healthcare staff.
  • The right to complain if things don’t go as expected and to expect a prompt and thorough investigation of complaints.

Patients also have responsibilities under the NHS Constitution, such as registering with a GP practice, following courses of treatment agreed upon, and treating NHS staff and other patients with respect.
If patients experience discrimination or unfair treatment, they have the right to report it and challenge wrongful denial of care. Patients can make a complaint about NHS services by following the NHS complaints procedure. The NHS also provides guidance on how to report discrimination and how to challenge wrongful denial of care.


By understanding the NHS, migrants can access the healthcare services they need and deserve, as the NHS provides free healthcare services to everyone in the UK, regardless of their nationality or immigration status. However, many migrants may not be aware of their entitlements to healthcare services, and they may face structural barriers to accessing healthcare. This guide offers information on entitlements, registration, and payment options, as well as how to access healthcare services in the UK. It is essential to ensure effective communication with migrant patients, including offering professional language interpreting and translation services. With this knowledge, migrants can access the healthcare services they need and deserve, and the NHS can continue to provide equal and free healthcare to everyone in the UK.

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