Healthcare in Scotland

With its gorgeous highlands, shimmering lochs and ancient castles, Scotland has a lot to offer. Friendly locals make it easy to feel at home in the birthplace of William Wallace, and there’s plenty to see and do throughout the country.

The healthcare system is relatively simple and easy to use, and most expats will qualify for free and subsidised care.

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The National Health Service (NHS) is the backbone of public healthcare throughout the UK and was initially conceived as a universal healthcare system. However, as each of the UK’s four countries are free to adapt the system, there are cross-border variations in policies. These have a knock-on effect on service efficiency and quality – though wherever one is in the UK, healthcare on the whole is of a high standard. That said, there are areas where Scotland stands out. For example, it has the UK’s highest ratio of GPs per person.

There are both public and private hospitals in Scotland, but in practice, there is little difference between the two. The quality of care is equally good and the same doctors often work in both sectors. If a patient needs something that is covered under the public system but for any reason can’t be provided by a public hospital, the NHS may send them to a private hospital. This is at no extra cost to the patient.

Anyone with a visa valid for more than six months is entitled to use the NHS, though a surcharge must be paid to access it. Thereafter, expats have the same healthcare benefits as citizens. This includes GP consultations, hospital visits, emergency treatment and prescribed medication at no cost. Some medical care under the NHS isn’t completely free but is subsidised.

To receive specialist treatment, patients need to see their local GP first for a referral.  Waiting times for specialist appointments for non-emergency care or elective surgery can be long.

Private health insurance in Scotland is mainly used to cover dental or voluntary cosmetic procedures. However, it is also useful for skipping long waiting periods.

Pharmacies are easy to find, including chain and independent outlets. Normal pharmacy hours are from around 8am to 6pm, Monday to Saturday. Some pharmacies have extended opening hours and late-night services.

The NHS provides high-quality free emergency treatment, however waiting times in A&E (Accidents & Emergencies) can be long.

In the event of a medical emergency, dial 999 for an ambulance. Ambulances usually have a fast response time for urban areas, but callers from very remote areas will have a longer waiting time.

The NHS also has a 24-hour medical advice line, which is reached by dialling 111. This line is for those who have a medical situation that needs attention or advice but are unsure whether an ambulance or immediate treatment is necessary. Trained professionals are available to advise callers and connect them to a variety of resources.