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About the links

You can click on some words that are underlined like this example like this example

You can click on the underlined words in blue or black to find out more information about the thing being talked about.

When you click on the underlined words in blue or black, you may be taken to another website or another part of this website.

Click on one of the links below to take you straight to the subject you want to read about:

About the NHS

What is the NHS?

  • The NHS is short for The National Health Service.
  • The NHS runs health services like hospitals, doctors, dentists and chemists.

NHS Structure

This part is about how the NHS works in England.

You can also find out about the NHS in

And health services in

The NHS health services in your local area are run by different groups of people.

Authorities and Trusts

1. Strategic Health Authorities

  • These are the people in charge of all the NHS health services in your local area.
  • This means they are in charge of all the NHS Trusts.
    You can read about NHS Trusts below.
  • Strategic Health Authorities make sure the health services in your area are running well. They also make plans for better health services in your area.

2. NHS Trusts

  • Groups called NHS Trusts run the health services in your area. There are lots of different NHS Trusts. Each one runs a different type of health service. For example
    • Hospitals are run by Acute Trusts
    • Ambulances are run by Ambulance Trusts
    • Doctors, dentists, opticians and chemists are run by Primary Care Trusts

Here are some other NHS Trusts that run health services in your local area.

  • Foundation Trusts. These are new types of hospitals. They are run more by people in the local area. These hospitals can make more of their own decisions based on what is best for people in their local area.
  • Care Trusts. They work with your local council to run social care services and other services. Social care services help people do everyday things like getting washed and dressed.
  • Mental Health Trusts. They run mental health services. Mental health services are for people who have health problems to do with their mind. For example, some people may feel sad or angry a lot and need some help to feel better.

Special Health Authorities

  • These groups run NHS health services for the whole of England, not just for a local area. One example is the National Blood Authority.

Health costs

Getting money back for the cost of travel to and from your hospital appointment

woman with wallet
  • You may be able to get the money back that you spent on travelling to and from your hospital appointment, if you cannot pay for the travel yourself.
  • You must be getting NHS healthcare for this to happen. This can include special tests that your doctor wants you to go to hospital to have.

When can you get money back for the cost of your travel?

You can get money back for the cost of your travel if you or your partner get some benefits called

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • Pension Credit Guarantee Credit

You can also get money back for the cost of your travel if

  • Your name is on an NHS tax exemption certificate This is a card you can get from the NHS. It lets you get some free healthcare from people like NHS dentists or opticians. If you get some benefits called Working Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit, you may be able to get this card.
  • Or if your name is on a certificate called HC2 or HC3.

This is a certificate you get from the NHS. It lets you get some free healthcare from people like NHS dentists or opticians.

To ask if you can get these certificates you have to fill in a form called an HC1 form. You can get the form

  • from your local hospital
  • from your local Jobcentre Plus office
  • by phoning 0845 6101 112. This is the number for the Department of Health order line
  • You cannot get money back for the cost of your travel if you are just visiting someone in hospital.

The help you can get with the cost of your travel is part of something called the Hospital Travel Costs Scheme.

There is a leaflet you can look at to find out more about this. It is called Help with Health Costs.

What transport should you use to get back the money you spent on your travel?

  • The transport you use must be the cheapest transport you can get. This is usually things like buses or trains.
  • If you travel by car because you cannot use public transport, you will get money back for
    • the cost of petrol
    • any money you pay to park in a car park - only if you cannot park anywhere else
A busy street

You may be able to get money back if you have to pay the Congestion Charge in London. (The Congestion Charge is money you have to pay to drive in some parts of London on weekdays.)

Find out more about getting money back for paying the Congestion Charge.

How to get the money back for the cost of your travel

You will need

  • All the receipts for your travel. Receipts are pieces of paper you get to show you have paid for something.
  • Your hospital appointment card or letter.
  • Something to prove you are getting the right benefits to get this help with the cost of travel.
  • Or if you do not get the benefits, you will need any certificates you have to show you can get help with the cost of NHS healthcare. For example, an NHS tax exemption certificate or a HC2 or HC3 certificate with your name on it.

How to claim the money back

You can claim back the money for the cost of your travel in 2 ways.

1. On the day of your appointment, go to a part of the hospital that is usually called the Cashier's or Finance Office. You should be able to get the money back straight away.

Make sure you take with you your

  • travel receipts
  • appointment letter or card
  • proof that you get the right benefits, or an NHS tax exemption certificate or an HC2 or HC3 certificate with your name on it

2. Or you can claim the money back by post, within 3 months after your hospital appointment.

You have to fill in a form called an HC5 form to do this. Attach the travel receipts to the form. Then send the form to the address on the form.

Do this within 3 months after your hospital appointment.

You can get the HC5 form

  • from your local hospital
  • from your local Jobcentre Plus office
  • by phoning 0845 6101 112. This is the number for the Department of Health order line

About patient choice

Choosing the hospital you want to go to and booking your appointment

  • You can now choose the hospital you want to go to.
  • You can do this if you and your doctor decide that you need to see a specialist at a hospital.
  • You can choose the hospital that you would most like to go to. For example, it could be a hospital that you have heard good things about or that is near your family. Or it could be a hospital you have been to before and are happy with.
  • But you can only choose from a list of hospitals that can give you the treatment you need.

You cannot choose your own hospital if

  • you need to see someone very quickly or in an emergency
  • you are taken to hospital by ambulance or in an emergency
  • you need to get treatment for mental health problems
  • you need maternity services, if you are going to have a baby

Your doctor or other healthcare staff may have to make the decision for you in these cases.

But you can

  • speak to your doctor if you feel the hospital he or she wants you to go to is not right for you.
  • ask to see another specialist if you are not happy with the treatment you get from the specialist your doctor wants you to see.

How to choose the hospital you want to get treatment at and book your appointment

You can either do this

  1. At the time of your appointment with your doctor
  2. Or after you have seen the doctor

1. Choosing your hospital and booking your appointment while you are with your doctor

  • You can choose the hospital you want to go to there and then, while you are at the appointment with your doctor.
  • Your doctor will tell you which hospitals you can choose from. Your doctor can also help you choose the best hospital for you.
  • You do not have to choose which hospital to go to if you do not want to. You can ask your doctor to choose for you.

2. Choosing your hospital and booking your appointment after you have seen your doctor

  • Your doctor will tell you which hospitals you can choose from to get your treatment.
  • You do not have to choose your hospital straight away.
  • You can go away and have a think about which hospital you would like to go to.
  • Here are some things you can do to help you choose the right hospital for you.

1. Find out more information about the hospitals. To do this you can

  • You can ask staff at your doctor's surgery for help
  • You can look at a booklet called Choosing your Hospital. You can get this from your doctor's surgery, your local library or from the internet.

To get a copy of the booklet on the internet, find your local area Primary Care Trust (PCT) from the list and click on the link to their website. Then scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the link called choosing your hospitals booklet.

You can ask for a copy of this booklet in other formats. For example, in easy read. You can do this by contacting your local Primary Care Trust (PCT). Their phone number will be on their website.

2. You could also ask your family or friends for help with choosing your hospital or booking your appointment.

How to book your appointment

To book your appointment you can

  • Ask staff at your local library to help you book the appointment using a computer.
  • Or you can book your appointment on your own computer. You have to go to a website called HealthSpace to do this.

The part of the website where you can book your appointment is called Choose and Book

  • Or you can phone this number to book your appointment: 0845 60 88888. This is the number for the NHS appointment line.

What you need to book your appointment

  • You will need the special number that your doctor gave you when they told you that you need to go to a hospital.
  • The special number is called a unique booking reference number. The number will be on the letter that the doctor gave you when they referred you to a hospital
  • If you book your appointment over the phone, you will have to give the person you speak to the special number and your date of birth.
  • If you book your appointment on the computer, you will have to type your special number and password into the computer before you book your appointment. The password is also on the letter your doctor gave you when they referred you to hospital.
  • For more information about booking your appointment on the computer, go to the Choose and Book website
  • If you need any more help to choose your hospital or book your appointment then ask staff at your local library or staff at your doctor's surgery for help.

What to do if you are not happy with the specialist you see at the hospital you chose

  • If you decide you do not want to get treatment at the first hospital you or your doctor choose, then go back to your doctor. Your doctor will tell you which other hospitals you can go to.

The different healthcare you can get on the NHS

A & E (This is short for Accident and Emergency)

  • Many hospitals have A & E departments. This is where you can go if you need to see someone very quickly or in an emergency.
  • You, or someone else, may need to call an ambulance to take you to A & E.
  • The telephone number to phone for an ambulance is 999.
  • Big A & E departments are open all day and night and every day of the year.

Why would you go to A & E?

  • You may go to A & E, or someone may need to call an ambulance to take you there if
    • you have an accident and are not conscious. (This means you are not awake or aware of what is happening around you.)

or you may go to A and E if

  • you are in a lot of pain that medicine like paracetemol or asprin has not stopped
  • you are very confused. For example, if you do not know where you are or what is happening
  • you have a lot of pain in your chest
  • you are finding it difficult to breathe

What will happen when you go to A & E?

  • A doctor or nurse will check you to see what treatment you need.
  • You may have to wait a little while to be seen by a doctor or nurse. But you should not usually have to wait more than 4 hours.

Dentists run by the NHS

You will have to pay to see an NHS dentist and to get treatment from a dentist.

But you may be able to get free treatment from an NHS dentist

Costs for NHS dentists

  • Most treatment costs either £15.90 or £43.60.
  • You should not have to pay more than £194 for any treatment you get. For example, you should not have to pay more than this for more serious treatment.

Who is in charge of NHS dentists in your area?

  • NHS dentists in your area are run by your local Primary Care Trust.

Hospitals run by the NHS

You can get lots of different types of healthcare at hospital. For example, you can go to the A & E department if you are very ill or have an accident, or you can get special healthcare for different types of illnesses.

Who is in charge of NHS hospitals in your area?

  • NHS hospitals in your area are run by a type of NHS Trust called an Acute Trust.

Opticians run by the NHS

You can see an optician about your eyes.

Opticians will check your eyes to see

  • if there are any problems that mean you need treatment
  • if you need anything to help you see better, like glasses or contact lenses

Chemists run by the NHS

Chemists are sometimes called pharmacies.

They are places you can go to

  • buy medicine you need
  • pick up medicine that your doctor has prescribed for you
  • get advice about how to live in a healthy way. Or advice about some illnesses that are not serious
A picture of a man receiving support

Social care services run by the NHS

  • Social care services are services that help people do everyday things like getting washed and dressed or making changes to their home so it is easier for them to live in.
  • Most social care services are run by your local council. Sometimes they are run by your local council and groups who run NHS services in your area.

NHS Walk-in Centres

  • These are places you can go to be seen by a doctor or a nurse without having an appointment or without having to register with the surgery.
  • This means you can just walk in and wait to be seen by a doctor or nurse.
  • There are about 90 Walk-in Centres across the country.

When can you go to a NHS Walk-in Centre?

  • You can go to an NHS Walk-in Centre if you have an illness or injury that is not serious. You could go to an NHS Walk-in Centre for things like
    • coughs, colds and flu
    • insect bites
    • hayfever
    • fractures or hurt or strained muscles
    • cuts that are not serious
    • infections or rashes
    • sunburn
    • stomach aches
    • women's health problems

(If you are very ill or have a serious injury you should go to the nearest hospital that has an A & E department, or get an ambulance to take you there.)

You can also go to an NHS Walk-in Centre for

  • Blood pressure checks
  • Advice about things like
    • how to stay healthy
    • contraception (things like condoms and the pill)
  • Information about
    • doctors, dentists and chemists in your area
    • other health services in your area

Find out where your nearest NHS Walk-in Centre is

Doctors run by the NHS

  • Doctors are also called GPs.
  • You can go to see a doctor or a nurse at your surgery for lots of different health problems.
  • You should be able to see a doctor within 2 working days, or a nurse or other healthcare person within 1 working day. This is if your health problem is not urgent.
  • You should let staff at your doctor's surgery know if you cannot go to your appointment or want to change it.

Questions to ask

Questions to ask when you have an appointment with your doctor or another healthcare person

  • There is a booklet you can read called Questions to Ask which gives you some useful questions you could ask when you go to the doctor or the hospital.
  • The questions may help you find out what you need to know and to make the most of the time you have with the doctor or other healthcare person.
A picture of a computer

Read the Questions to Ask booklet

If you have any questions about this booklet you can send an email to questionstoask@dh.gsi.gov.uk

Who checks health services to make sure they are running well?

A group called the Healthcare Commission.

Who checks social care services to make sure they are running well?

A group called the Commission for Social Care Inspection does this.

What else is on this website?

  • This website is called NHS Choices.
  • It is there to give you information to help you make choices about your health.

Here are some of the things you can look at on this website.

Find services

This part of the website helps you find telephone numbers and details of all the health services in your area. You can find the details for anything from doctors to places where you can go to do sport and exercise.

Live well

This part of the website gives you information about how to be healthy.

Health A-Z

This part of the website gives you information about different illnesses and conditions. And the treatments you can get for them. Doctors and other healthcare people give good advice about this as well.

Compare hospitals

This part of the website lets you look at different hospitals to see what they are like. You can compare the hospitals. (This means you can look at more than 1 hospital at once to see which one you like more.)

Your thoughts

This part of the website lets you write what you think about the hospitals you have been to. Your comments and other people's comments will be used to give hospitals a score based on what people think about them.

Behind the headlines

This is where you can find out more about things about the NHS that have been in the news.

Videos, multimedia tools and links

This part of the website has lots of things like videos and things you can listen to about health. There are also things like games you can play.

Editorial Policy

This part of the website talks about the high standards (or rules) we follow when making information for this website.

About the information on this website

This website (NHS Choices) will try at all times to do things in a good and fair way. For example, we will try at all times to

  • Listen to people using the website and treat them in a good and fair way.
  • Make sure the information on this website is good, fair and honest. And make sure people who work in healthcare, like doctors and hospital specialists, check the information on this website to make sure it is good and right.
  • Make sure the information on the website will be useful for people. And be ok for everyone to look at, including children.

Who is in charge of this website?

  • A part of the Government called the Department of Health owns the NHS Choices website.
  • The website is run by a group of people called the NHS Choices Board and the NHS Choices Operations Board.

Credits for photos

Easy read words by Mencap. Thanks to Photosymbols for the pictures in these easy read web pages.