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Wales is an expat destination which has grown in popularity due to its good work-life balance and outdoor lifestyle. As part of the wider National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom (UK), Wales also has a good reputation when it comes to healthcare. While NHS Wales is run separately from the public healthcare service across the rest of the UK, it does share many features with the common system. However, for expats who are willing to pay, the private sector provides excellent services and allows users to bypass waiting lists for treatment.
Public healthcare in Wales
Registering with a local GP should be a priority for expats when moving to Wales, as an NHS number is allocated through a local doctor. This number will allow expats to take advantage of the public healthcare system in the UK. To make use of the local public healthcare facilities, an expat may need to show the doctor or nurse their passport and visa to demonstrate their eligibility for NHS benefits. Expats from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) must pay a health surcharge as part of their visa application if they are staying longer than six months. Payment of this fee grants expats access to all NHS services.
When it comes to seeking medical treatment in the UK, the local GP is likely to be an expat’s first point of contact. These professionals are qualified to deal with the majority of general medical queries. If a patient requires further tests or specialist medical treatment, the GP will provide a referral.
The NHS covers almost all medical services, excluding dental and eye treatments. For these, expats will have to pay out of their own pockets or rely on private health insurance. However, NHS dentists offer the basics at a much lower rate than private dentists. There are also many people who qualify for free eye tests through the NHS.
Long waits can be part of the NHS experience, but this is mostly associated with doctor’s appointments. It can be difficult to get a same-day appointment with a GP, and specialists often have waiting lists lasting more than a month. When it comes to emergency medical treatment however, public health institutions are generally quick and efficient, and expats can rely on quality care.
Private hospitals and clinics in Wales are expensive, but the medical services offered are of a high standard. They mostly offer more specialised services or treatments that are not offered by the NHS. If expats plan to use private healthcare services in Wales, it is highly recommended that they invest in a comprehensive private health insurance plan.
It’s important to note that not all private hospitals are equipped for emergencies. Expats who rely solely on private institutions should ensure that they know where their closest accident and emergency department is located, and this may well be at an NHS hospital.
Pharmacies and medication
Most pharmacies in Wales do not only dispense medication, but can often also offer medical advice from qualified professionals. Expats can rely on pharmacists to diagnose and advise on minor ailments such as stomach problems or headaches.
Pharmacies and chemist shops in Wales are plentiful and can even be found in smaller villages. Unlike England, written prescriptions are free in Wales, and most pharmacies are well-stocked.
All visitors to the UK are entitled to free emergency treatment, but foreign patients will be charged for any medical services following the direct emergency. The emergency number in Wales is 999. Ambulances are well-prepared for almost every medical emergency, and the crew usually consists of a paramedic and an emergency medical technician. Emergency call centre agents in Wales speak both English and Welsh.
Emergency situations categorised as life threatening will be attended to swiftly. Non-emergency medical advice is available through NHS Direct Wales on 111 or 0845 46 47, where patients can call in for medical advice or check their symptoms online. Other patient transport services can also be booked through regional Non-Emergency Transport Centres.