‘If you are going to the hospital for a serious complaint and your English is not good, it’s best to take a friend with you’ – West African

‘My son fell out of a tree so I called 111 and they sent a paramedic to see how he was and he ended up going to Accident and Emergency, luckily he was fine’ – South African

‘The NHS is a huge incentive for creating entrepreneurs, you are not going to lose your health care if you lose your job’ – American


In this section, you will discover:

  • An overview of the NHS and how it works
  • How to register with a GP
  • Who to call when you need to speak to someone
  • Health sites for more information

How does the health service work?

The NHS is a publicly funded health service paid for from taxation – so on the whole, its services are free to everyone. This means that it works extremely hard and is short staffed, but no one is going to fall into huge debt because they are ill and need medical care. Your entitlement to health service treatment depends on your residency status but if you have British citizenship, you are entitled to care, which is free to you. Some services such as prescriptions are charged for.

Your GP

You need to register with a GP for your healthcare, for any prescriptions you need. Your GP should be near where you live. If you need to see a consultant for specialist advice, your GP will refer you. You cannot refer yourself.

To find a GP practice, go to NHS Choices, look up GP practices under services near you. You have the right to choose the GP you register with so check the services they offer and see if you can find out their reputation. Register with a GP as soon as you can. Don’t wait until you are unwell.

GPs can diagnose illnesses and conditions,prescribe medications, refer you on for specialist care and tests and manage chronic conditions.  They can also carry out minor surgeries such as removing tags or cysts, clean up infected wounds, change dressings and administer injections for complaints such as painful joints.


This is for when you urgently need medical advice or help but its not a life-threatening situation. You will be put through to a fully trained adviser who will assess the symptoms.  Depending on their assessment, the adviser might connect you to a nurse or a GP, give you self-care advice, connect you to a local service or if they judge it to be serious, send an ambulance for you.

Accident and Emergency

This is for genuine life-threatening emergencies such as severe illness, bleeding, a loss of consciousness, chest pains, breathing difficulties, poisoning or major trauma. Ambulance crews will take patients to A&E but you can also go yourself if your condition requires it.  The waiting time is the same whether you go by ambulance or yourself.

What must you do?

It’s really important that you keep any medical appointment or rearrange it once you know you can’t make it. If you fail to attend a hospital appointment, you will fall out of the system and your GP will need to refer you again. Hospitals are supposed to see everyone within 18 weeks of a referral. This is for your first referral, they do not have to meet a target if you fail to keep your appointment so you may have to wait a long time for the next referral.

The NHS has a fantastic website which will give you lots of information on how it works, descriptions of different conditions and their treatment and advice on how to stay healthy.

Go to for more information.