The British National Health System

Expater friends moving to the UK with kids always ask me three things: ‘How can I find a good home in a decent neighbourhood?’ ‘How can I find a find a good school?’ and ‘Can I trust the British National Health System?’

Well I’ve run through the best neighbourhoods in London and I’ll discuss schools later, but first let’s consider the most important for those without kids too: health.

OK so you have private insurance, but chances are that you’ll have to navigate the British National Health Service (NHS) at some point during your time in the UK.

Anyone who knows me knows I have mixed feelings about the NHS.

On the whole, I’ve found staff, including nurses, doctors and auxiliary staff to be well meaning and caring, but over stretched.

The midwives who attended me were amazing, setting up a makeshift spa experience with candles and soft music, but as there were only two of them on the ward, they needed to leave me to care for other higher priority patients. It felt odd to have given birth and then within half an hour to be left completely alone until the next day.

I lived with medical students throughout much of my university years and count general practitioners and surgeons among my close friends. They do the best they can, but they’re up against a system which doesn’t seem to be conducive to proper care for all. As beds fill, patients are shipped from one hospital to the next and ambulances are left queuing at the entrance.

Most agree that the NHS needs an urgent shake up, but it’s a complicated, controversial issue.


But it’s not all bad. Indeed for urgent care, professionals are, in my view, some of the most qualified in the world. Nurses go beyond the extra mile to deliver their very best.

If you’re living in a rural area of the UK, like I did, private healthcare isn’t readily available. If you’re living in a major city, it’s useful to have private care in order to skip lengthy queues, but for urgent or specialised operations, you’ll be dealing with the NHS.

A word of warning – most healthcare professionals give their all for the NHS so are understandably protective about it. Be tactful if you decide to go private, or risk irking doctors who may end up treating you in due course. If you do decide to go private, you may find yourself in a ‘private healthcare funnel’ unable to jump back onto the NHS system.

Personally I find private healthcare useful for jumping queues to see specialists and for a more comfortable aftercare experience, but if you’re in danger it’s the NHS that will save your life. And for that, despite all its flaws, I’m grateful.


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