In a related question @GayotFow mentions that:

I am aware that visitors can received emergency treatment from the National Health Service (NHS) for free.

This seems a bit suspicious but other comments seem to confirm it. The following questions then arise:

  1. Is the claim true? Will the hospital discharge you without presenting any bill?
  2. If the claim is true, does it mean that travel insurance is not really needed in the UK?
  3. Would staying in a hospital for free cause issues when applying for future UK visas?
  • I was under the impression that the law is changing in April 2017, however The Department of Health said nobody would be denied emergency treatment, whether they could pay or not. Hospitals will be required by law to check whether patients are eligible for free care on the NHS from April onwards. The rule raises the prospect of patients having to produce their passports and other identity documents before receiving most kinds of treatment. The Guardian February 6th 2017
    – medina
    Mar 8, 2017 at 14:37
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JonathanReez
    Mar 9, 2017 at 14:32
  • When I went to an ER in a hospital in England with a minor issue they didn't know what the European health insurance thing on the back of my German insurance card was, they didn't understand my travel health insurance I bought in Germany, but they ended up treating me anyway. But I think that was just because one of the nurses felt bad for sending the traveler away, so she sneaked me into a room and treated me, without a bill, without registration, and then we went on our way. I think they didn't even know how to deal with me in their system without having the UK's insurance.
    – simbabque
    Mar 10, 2017 at 10:39

3 Answers 3


Is the claim true? Will the hospital discharge you without presenting any bill?

Yes, the claim is true, in part:

Treatment in A&E departments and at GP surgeries remains free for all.

Summary of changes made to the way the NHS charges overseas visitors for NHS hospital care

However, subsequent treatment is not free:

4.3 The current list of exempt services comprises: accident and emergency (A&E) services provided at an NHS hospital7 (whether provided at an A&E department or elsewhere in the NHS hospital, e.g. urgent care centre) but not including services provided after the overseas visitor is accepted as an inpatient or at a follow-up outpatient appointment. So, where emergency treatment is given after admission to the NHS hospital, e.g. intensive care or coronary care, it is chargeable to a non-exempt overseas visitor;

Guidance on implementing the overseas visitor hospital charging regulations 2015

So basically, the NHS will save your life, but if you are then admitted to the hospital as part of that treatment (moved from A&E to AMU or a ward) then you will be charged for subsequent treatment.

If the claim is true, does it mean that travel insurance is not really needed in the UK?

Travel insurance covers a lot more than just treatment - being transported back to your country of residence is often included, and can be exceptionally expensive if you need specific requirements for instance.

The guidance linked to above does note the following:

People who live outside the EEA, including former UK residents, should now make sure they are covered by personal health insurance, unless an exemption applies to them. Anyone who does not have insurance will be charged at 150% of the NHS national tariff for any care they receive.

Travel insurance is one type of personal health insurance acceptable in this circumstance.

Would staying in a hospital for free cause issues when applying for future UK visas?

I think this is covered in the other question - if a bill is applicable and unpaid, you may have an issue on entry or on application for a visa.

If the treatment is non-billable, you should not have any issues.

  • I would clarify that you are very likely to be refused on that basis as there would have to be some very strong compassionate/human rights circumstances for the debt alone to not be enough to refuse someone. Besides that have your +1 ;). Mar 8, 2017 at 14:26
  • What happens if you don't/can't pay (ex if not covered by insurance most people couldn't pay for a heart attack out of pocket). Will your ability to leave be restricted, will the NHS attempt to send a collection agency in your home country after you, etc? Mar 8, 2017 at 16:52
  • 4
    @DanNeely currently, other than the potential immigration issues, nothing. That will change due to recent efforts to minimise losses due to foreign users, but there is no indication on what recovery methods will be employed.
    – Moo
    Mar 8, 2017 at 17:04
  • Am I correct in assuming that while you may have to pay for some types of emergency treatment, the NHS will provide it whether or not you can afford to pay?
    – cpast
    Mar 8, 2017 at 18:56
  • @cpast it would be extremely difficult to defend a case brought under the human rights act if the NHS were to withhold life saving or sustaining treatment due to lack of funds.
    – Moo
    Mar 8, 2017 at 19:32

Yes it can cause issue with future immigration applications.

Hospital treatment is free to ‘ordinary residents’ of the UK. But if you are visiting the UK – to stay with family, on business, as a tourist, or if you are living here without proper permission – then you are likely to be charged by an NHS hospital for the treatment it gives you. Not paying this charge may have an effect on any future immigration application you make and you risk being turned down



Is the claim true? Will the hospital discharge you without presenting any bill?

For emergency care, it seems true. For any other care you will get billed. Please remember that emergency care is usually considered "what ever it takes to make sure you don't die." So if you get hit by a car, you may well find that emergency care covers the initial stabilization, and the bandaging of that nasty cut so you don't bleed out, but not the casting of bones, or surgeries "preferred" for cosmetic reasons (what I mean is you may get nothing more the stitches, when what you would want, at home, would be something that leaves reconstruction as an option). As a bit of a funny I tend to think of it as, "they will duct tape your insides so they don't fall out, but your going to have to pay for the next roll of tape"

If the claim is true, does it mean that travel insurance is not really needed in the UK?

Travel insurance covers so much more then the actual medical bills. Depending on who is providing coverage, you usually get:

  • A trip home
  • Help with medical expencies (beyound the inital duct tape)
  • Money back for the missing parts of the trip you could not cancel
  • Help with lost ID or paper work you need to get home
  • A place to stay while you work out other issues that may arise (for example, if you needed to stay longer for treatment)
  • Some (limited) legal support, should it be required.

With that said, if you though you needed travel insurance before, then you should still get it now. Emergency care is a very far cry from "all the care I need to make it home"

Would staying in a hospital for free cause issues when applying for future UK visas?

No, but you will not be staying in the hospital for free. It's not accurate, but think of Emergency care as the bare minimum to keep you breathing. So if you had an accident, and you needed emergency care to live, you would get that free. The bandage changes, room and meals, doctor visits, etc. will all cost money. That money would then be billed to you. The free care is more of (again not totally accurate) a way to make sure that the hospitals and surgeries keep you from dieing while they figure out the correct way to bill you, not a way to totally avoid a bill.

If you have an unpaid bill, then yes you could have problems with your next application. And any hospital visit is likely to result in a bill, as you would need and want more then "yep he's breathing" levels of care.

  • 2
    Travel insurance assures that a private (consenting) insurer pays, rather than merely picking the pocket of the British people. Mar 8, 2017 at 16:27
  • 1
    This is true to most (or maybe all) countries in Europe. They will stop the bleeding for free, but anything longer term will cost you money.
    – vsz
    Mar 8, 2017 at 19:11

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