Here, we give an overview of the healthcare available to Ukrainian refugees in the UK.
In the UK, we are very fortunate to have a national health service (known as the NHS) providing many healthcare services free of charge to those who are entitled to this. Ukrainian refugees can access the NHS. Bear in mind it is ultimately funded by taxpayers in order to be ‘free’ and does not have infinite resources.
The NHS has a comprehensive website of information about health and various healthcare services. It is worth getting familiar with all the help available, including that for mental health. See: https://www.nhs.uk/
Using the site, you can find for example, your nearest pharmacy, doctor, dentist, and Accident and Emergency services. Your host may be able to recommend a particular doctor or dentist to you.
For emergency situations, call 999 or visit the nearest hospital with an Accident and Emergency department; otherwise call 111 or make an appointment to see your GP. Most GP surgeries have emergency appointments that are released on the day (you will need to know when is the best time to phone, and you will be placed in a queue; sick children are usually given priority.) If you cannot wait until you can get a GP appointment, you can also visit walk-in or Urgent Treatment Centres where you can receive treatment for minor injuries, or receive urgent medical advice.
You may be eligible for help with those services where charges do apply (such as dentists, prescriptions and eye tests) – see https://www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/nhs-help-health-costs for more details. You may be eligible for help even if you are not on benefits.
Quick guides to the NHS are available in:
Registering with a doctor
A doctor is also known as a general practitioner or GP. Because a GP’s letter or NHS registration letter counts as proof of address for some banks, this is also very useful to do early on as it gives you options for which bank to go with.
See How to register with a GP surgery – NHS (www.nhs.uk) You do not need proof of ID, address or immigration status to register. You can also request a translator at your appointments if needed. The patient registration form GMS1 is available in Ukrainian and Russian. There is also a questionnaire available in Ukrainian and Russian which you can use to provide details of your medical history: https://www.england.nhs.uk/publication/meeting-the-initial-health-needs-of-people-arriving-in-the-uk-from-ukraine/
Some surgeries are proud to be ‘Safe Surgeries’ – a Safe Surgery can be any GP practice which commits to taking steps to tackle the barriers faced by many migrants in accessing healthcare. At a minimum, this means declaring your practice a ‘Safe Surgery’ for everyone and ensuring that lack of ID or proof of address, immigration status or language are not barriers to patient registration.
If you believe you need to see a specialist for your condition or problem, you will still need to see your GP first (in a non-emergency situation). They will assess you and then if they agree that there is a need, they will refer you to a specialist (which will be free on the NHS), and you will receive an appointment to see them. The appointment could be several days or weeks away depending on the urgency of the referral and existing waiting lists.
Registering with a dentist
Dental care in the UK is generally not free. Some dentists will accept ‘NHS patients’ and fees are reduced for treatments, however, there can be waiting lists to join such dental surgeries, depending on where you live.
You can find a dentist using this link, including whether or not they are currently taking NHS patients (you may need to double check by phoning the surgery themselves): https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/find-a-dentist. When you have found a dentist, you should let them know if you are receiving benefits such as Universal Credit or Pension Credit, in which case your check-ups and necessary treatment will be free. Note that getting dental treatment before signing up for Universal Credit can result in charges.
Prescriptions and medicines
Prescriptions for medication cost a standard rate of £9.35 currently (see https://www.nhs.uk/nhs-services/prescriptions-and-pharmacies/nhs-prescription-charges/). Your drugs prescription will be free in certain cases, for example:
- Age 60 or over
- Age 16 or under
- Age 16 to 18 and in fulltime education
- Pregnant or had a baby in the last 12 months
- Eligible for Universal Credit
If you need to pay for prescriptions, and require frequent medication, then consider buying an NHS Prepayment Certificate, which is offered at a fixed price no matter how many prescriptions you have. See https://www.nhs.uk/nhs-services/prescriptions-and-pharmacies/save-money-with-a-prescription-prepayment-certificate-ppc/ for more details.
Note that medications such as antibiotics require a doctor’s prescription; they cannot be bought outright.
Also note that certain medications are available ‘over the counter’ in pharmacies. Compare the price of these with the prescription price of £9.35; sometimes they are cheaper, and sometimes more expensive (if they’re more expensive, then obviously you are better off buying them with a doctor’s prescription).
Eye tests and glasses
Eye sight tests (to check your vision and sight prescription) are carried out by opticians. You can find chains of opticians such as Boots, Specsavers and Vision Express, opticians in larger supermarkets and department stores, or independent opticians. The usual charge for an eye test is around £20 to £25, but in some cases, you can get free eye tests and help with the cost of glasses. You can also use your vision prescription to order glasses online which might be cheaper.
See https://www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/help-travel-eye-care-wigs-and-fabric-support-costs/sight-tests-glasses-and-contact-lenses for details of the help you can get with costs.
Private healthcare is available in the UK; usually this is paid for using private health insurance, which is provided as a benefit by many companies to their employees. You can also take out private health insurance yourself, although it may not cover pre-existing conditions.
If you have such insurance, in order to be treated privately, you may still need to be referred by a GP to see a specialist (depending on the exact problem and terms of your insurance). Without such insurance, it can be very expensive to be treated privately (hundreds or thousands of pounds), and quite often, the same consultants that have a private practice also work for the NHS.
You can find out more about how private healthcare and insurance works in the UK here, for example: https://www.healthcareclarity.co.uk/how-does-private-medical-insurance-work-in-the-uk/.
Mental health and well-being
Your doctor (GP) can be the first person you speak to if you are struggling with mental health issues and they should then refer you to specialist services for further help.
As a refugee, your local council may be providing services specifically to support your mental health and well-being as a result of the traumatic experiences you have faced. Contact them to see what is available.
Barnardo’s (a charity) is also offering a support helpline: – Help for anyone fleeing the Ukrainian conflict | Barnardo’s (barnardos.org.uk)
You can call Samaritans (another charity) on 116 123 to talk to a trained volunteer for free.