The National Health Service (NHS) is the publicly funded healthcare system in England. It is the largest and the oldest single-payer healthcare system in the world. It is primarily funded through tax, in a similar fashion to fire departments, police departments, and primary schools. The system provides healthcare to anyone normally legally resident in England, and also any other part of the United Kingdom, with almost all services free at the point of use for all such people.
The NHS was born out of a long-held ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth. At its launch by the then minister of health, Aneurin Bevan, on 5 July 1948, it had at its heart three core principles:
- That it meet the needs of everyone
- That it be free at the point of delivery
- That it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay
In practice, "free at the point of use" normally means that anyone legitimately fully registered with the system (i.e. in possession of an NHS number), including UK citizens and legal immigrants, can access the full breadth of critical and non-critical medical care without any out-of-pocket payment of any kind. Some specific NHS services do however require a financial contribution from the patient.
Since 1948, patients have been charged for some services such as eye tests, dental care, prescriptions, and aspects of long-term care. However, these charges are often lower than equivalent services provided by a private health care provider.
So unlike what I've read in American books you don't have to pay to ride in an ambulance, you don't have to fill out form and provide medical insurance details before they will even let you see a doctor, the doctor does not treat you and hand you a whopping great big bill afterwards. Prescriptions you still have to pay for those with some exceptions - OAP's (Old Age Pensioners) don't have to pay for prescription, pregnant women don't and those with life long (without this medication they could die) conditions.
I am thankful everyday to live in this country with our free health care as a type 1 diabetic. :)