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Accessing NHS healthcare while in active service

Find information and support about healthcare for serving personnel and mobilised reservists.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is responsible for providing general healthcare and some areas of specialist healthcare for most serving personnel and mobilised reservists.

If you are a non-mobilised reservist, you are likely to get support and treatment in the same way as a veteran.

Find out more information about healthcare for veterans

Healthcare on active duty

General care while serving

General and day-to-day check-ups and treatments for serving personnel and mobilised reservists both overseas and in the UK are provided by Defence Medical Services (DMS).

DMS is made up of the Royal Navy Medical Services, the Army Medical Services, the Royal Air Force Medical Services and Headquarters DMS Group.

General care you receive through DMS includes:

  • treatment from GP services (general practice)
  • dentistry
  • occupational medicine
  • community mental health services

When you can use NHS services

If you are in a situation where you cannot use DMS services to receive your healthcare, such as being too far away from a military medical centre to see a DMS GP, you can temporarily register with NHS GP services to make sure you get the healthcare support you need.

To do this, you need to register with an NHS GP surgery as a temporary resident. This lasts for up to 3 months.

Find information on how to register with a GP surgery

During this time, your DMS GP will continue to be your main registered GP. It is important that you return to using DMS services as soon as you can.

You can also use NHS services for out-of-hours care. This includes:

  • going to A&E in a medical emergency
  • using or calling 111 if you need medical help now, but it’s not an emergency
  • going to an urgent care service such as a walk-in centre or minor injuries unit

Out-of-hours services and NHS GP surgeries you have temporarily registered with will pass on records of any treatment you receive to your DMS military medical centre.

You need to tell your military medical centre if an NHS GP has given you health advice that could affect your military service.

Returning to the UK for specialist treatment

Your DMS GP will decide if you need to return to the UK for specialist treatment and can refer you to hospital care through the NHS.

The Defence Medical Welfare Service (DMWS) can visit you regularly when you are in the UK. It will help you with your day to day needs and maintain a link with your unit.

Emergency specialist treatment

You will return to the UK for specialist emergency treatment if you:

  • have a serious injury from a military operation
  • have a medical emergency that requires specialist care, such as cancer treatment

The main treatment centre for most seriously injured serving personnel deployed on military operations is the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine (RCDM). This is a specialist centre provided by DMS and the NHS.

The RCDM is based at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham (QEHB). Most injured serving personnel returning to the UK will be taken to QEHB.

If you need treatment for other medical emergencies, you will go to an NHS hospital that can provide the specialist care you need.

Routine specialist treatment

Your DMS GP may refer you to routine specialist treatment in the UK if it is easier to treat you there than overseas.

They will refer you to an NHS hospital for treatment by specialists in the area of your injury or medical need.

Rehabilitation services

The MoD provides many rehabilitation services across the UK. These are known as Primary Care Rehabilitation Facilities (PCRFs) and Regional Rehabilitation Units (RRUs).

Most serving personnel will receive physiotherapy and exercise rehabilitation through PCRFs. If you have long-term injuries, you will be referred to an RRU.

Serving personnel can also receive support through the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre (DMRC). This is a specialist centre committed to supporting serving personnel in their rehabilitation from complex injuries and trauma.

GOV.UK: Find more about rehabilitation services, including the DMRC

Non-urgent and routine hospital care

If you are based in England and need non-urgent or routine hospital treatment, your DMS GP will refer you through the NHS.

You may go on a waiting list before you can get treatment.

Find more information about how NHS care works for the armed forces community

Pregnancy and fertility support

It is important to know what options you have and actions you can take if you or your partner are either pregnant or looking to get pregnant while in the armed forces.

Find information and advice about pregnancy and fertility when in the armed forces on our support for armed forces families page.

Mental health support

DMS provides mental health support for serving personnel and mobilised reservists, including crisis support and specialist care.

There are also charity helplines that are available for you to talk to.

Find out more information about mental health support for serving personnel, reservists and their families

Sexual assault and abuse support

If you have been sexually assaulted or abused while in the armed forces or as a veteran, there are NHS services and charities who can give you help and advice.

Find help after rape and sexual assault

Forward Assist’s Salute Her UK: advice and support for women who are veterans or currently serving

Support for families of serving personnel

There is a range of support and advice available for families of armed forces serving personnel and mobilised reservists.

This includes services and charities dedicated to helping you with any healthcare and welfare concerns, such as supporting your family when moving to a new posting.

Find more information about support for armed forces families

Page last reviewed: 25 August 2021
Next review due: 25 August 2024