Home Healthcare Accidents & Emergencies The UK hospital system
Last update on October 11, 2019

The UK hospital system may be different to that of your home country. You can choose between care at one of the private hospitals in the UK or at one of the public hospitals in the UK. With this guide you’ll find useful information and a list of hospitals in the country.

This guide looks at hospital healthcare in the UK and lists some of the best hospitals in the UK, including private hospitals in London and other areas of the country. UK Hospitals are classed as secondary care services in the UK, which means that you will only visit them if you are referred by a doctor or in the case of an emergency.

Types of UK hospital

There are two general types of hospital in the UK – National Health Service (NHS) hospitals which are free, and independent hospitals run by private companies or charities which usually charge for services. NHS hospitals are run by National Health Service trusts.

Most general hospitals in the UK will offer accident and emergency (A&E), maternity services, surgery, elderly care and outpatient services. There are also a number of specialist hospitals in the UK (e.g. eye hospitals, orthopaedic hospitals, etc.).

NHS hospital

The quality and standards in UK hospitals is very good by international comparison and medical procedures will be performed at state-of-the-art levels. University hospitals in the UK will offer pioneering specialist treatment but are less accessible.

UK hospitals will admit outpatients (those that visit for treatment just for the day without needing overnight stays) and inpatients (those that will stay for a period of time e.g. for a surgical procedure or with a long-term illness). Visiting hours vary between hospitals and different wards within hospitals so you will need to check in advance before planning to visit someone.

Conditions for visiting a UK hospital

Except for in cases of emergencies, you will need to be referred by your doctor or a qualified health professional for treatment at a UK hospital. If you are referred to hospital in the UK, you will need to make an appointment. You are free to choose which hospital you are treated in, as well as request a particular specialist consultant to be seen by. You can request to be treated in a private UK hospital in the UK if you wish, although you may have to pay. Many private hospitals in the UK provide services on the NHS but you will need to check this with your doctor first if you don’t want to end up with a bill.

You do not have the legal right to choose where you are treated if:

  • you need emergency or urgent treatment
  • you are accessing maternity services
  • you are referred by certain services e.g. psychiatric services or drug and alcohol misuse services
  • you are detained under the Mental Health Act
  • you are on temporary release from an institution e.g. a prison or a care home


You can use the NHS search tool to search for hospitals in the UK, consultants, surgical procedures and departments.

You can book an appointment by phone, through your GP surgery or through the NHS e-referral service available here. If your treatment is non-urgent, you have the right to be seen within 18 weeks for NHS treatment.

Once your appointment in a UK hospital is booked, you will receive an admission letter through the post with details of your appointment. If you need to cancel or change the appointment, you must let the hospital know as soon as possible otherwise you will lose your referral and will have to go through your GP again to get another appointment.

Private hospitals in London

For some UK hospital procedures, you might be asked to sign a consent form before you are given treatment. This confirms that you understand exactly what treatment you are receiving. You can seen more information on giving consent to treatment here.

All UK residents, both permanent and temporary, are entitled to receive hospital treatment if needed. To be referred for hospital treatment, you will need to be registered with a GP. See our guide to doctors and specialists in the UK for more information.

If you are a non-resident or visiting the UK on a short stay, you are entitled to free emergency care, maternity care and treatment for infectious diseases and some serious conditions free of charge. For other services, you will need to have necessary health insurance to avoid paying excessive charges. European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss citizens will need a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Non-EU/EEA or Swiss citizens will need to make private insurance arrangements for short stays and will need to pay a health surcharge if staying in the UK for longer than 6 months.

See our guides to healthcare in the UK and the European Health Insurance Card for more information.

Finding the best UK hospital

To find the best hospitals in the UK, there are a few ratings and rankings systems you can check:

  • for the whole of the UK, you can check the world hospital ranking list which has a list of hospitals in the UK. The current highest ranked hospital in the UK is the Royal Berkshire NHS Hospital, ranked at 67 in the world
  • you can check the inspection ratings of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) who are the independent regulator of health and social care in England
  • for NHS hospitals in England, you can check the My NHS site for ratings in a number of areas including performance, mortality rates, inspection findings and recommendations


See below for a list of best hospitals in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Best hospitals in London


Best hospitals in Birmingham


Best hospitals in Manchester


Best hospitals in Newcastle


Best hospitals in Sheffield


Best hospitals in Liverpool


Best hospitals in Bristol


Best hospitals in Edinburgh


Best hospitals in Glasgow


Best hospitals in Cardiff


Best hospitals in Swansea


Best hospitals in Belfast

UK hospital costs

NHS hospital care is free to all UK residents. Some services such as emergency services are free to all including non-residents. Non-residents will need the relevant health insurance to access non-urgent hospital care in NHS hospitals in the UK to avoid being charged.

Private hospitals UK

Private insurance for hospital treatment in the UK

If you opt for private treatment, UK hospital costs will vary depending on treatment required, hospital provider and region. Consultation sessions are normally around £200 and surgical procedures can range from around £1000 to over £10,000. Nuffield Health, who are one of the largest private hospital providers in the UK, have individual pricing lists for each of their 31 hospitals in the UK. Surgery such as a back operation costs just over £2000. Some of the large expat-friendly international health insurance companies which provide coverage in the UK are:

Emergencies in the UK

Emergency treatment is provided free to everyone in NHS hospitals in the UK. Most hospitals have A&E departments to deal with emergency or life-threatening situations.

If you need urgent treatment or advice in the UK, you can do one of the following:

  • call 111 for NHS medical help or advice if the situation is urgent but not life-threatening
  • call 999 for emergency services if you need an ambulance, the police or the fire service
  • visit the A&E department of your local hospital if your situation is urgent and potentially life-threatening
  • visit an NHS walk-in centre, minor injuries unit or urgent care centre
  • visit an out-of-hours pharmacist for advice on common or minor illnesses
  • call 116 123 to speak to the Samaritans if you need urgent mental health support. You can also contact your local crisis support service which can be found here.


Note: Each region of the UK – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, has its own NHS body. The information here is mostly regarding NHS England. You can find out more about the NHS in other regions on the websites for NHS Scotland, NHS Wales and NHS Northern Ireland.

Further information