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A guide to NHS services

Find information about how the NHS works and how it provides healthcare to the armed forces community.

NHS healthcare services work differently from healthcare you receive in the military.

Veterans and non-mobilised reservists will usually get treatment through the NHS.

Serving personnel and mobilised reservists are usually cared for by Defence Medical Services (DMS), but there may be times when you use NHS services as well.

Find more information on specialist armed forces services, including:

NHS GP surgeries

GP surgeries are usually the first point of contact if you have a health problem.

They can treat many conditions and give health advice. They can also refer you to other NHS or armed forces healthcare services.

You will need to book an appointment to see a GP. You will not usually be able to see a GP straight away, although emergency appointments for urgent medical problems are usually seen within a day.

Find more information about GP surgeries including how to book appointments and how to change your GP surgery

Registering with a GP surgery

It is free to register with a GP. You do not need proof of address, immigration status, ID or an NHS number to do so.

You can check with GP surgeries before registering to see how they differ from each other, and find the right one for you. Some GP surgeries allow you to register with them even if you are not local.

If you have left the armed forces and have not registered with an NHS GP yet, do this as soon as you can.

Find more information about registering with a GP


If you are a veteran, tell your GP surgery as soon as possible. They will record it in your medical records.

This means you are more likely to receive specialist veteran care and consideration in the future, including referrals to specialist veteran health services if needed.

Veteran friendly GP surgeries

Different GP surgeries offer different things. Some GP surgeries are considered "veteran friendly". Veteran friendly GP surgeries may have different ways they can help you with your healthcare.

This includes:

  • having medical staff with military healthcare backgrounds
  • having staff trained to treat health problems that commonly affect veterans
  • having knowledge of specialist NHS and Ministry of Defence (MoD) services designed specifically for member of the armed forces

You can contact a GP surgery to ask if they are veteran friendly.

Dental and eye care

You can receive dental and eye care either through the NHS or privately. This may also depend on the type of care you need, including any specialist treatment.

Dental and eye care are not usually free. However, there are exceptions, such as receiving free NHS eye tests.

Find more information on dental care, including finding a dentist

Find more information on eye care, including finding an optician

Medical emergencies

If you have a medical emergency, there are urgent and emergency services that can help you. You may need to:

  • call 111
  • call 999
  • go to A&E
  • visit urgent treatment centres (walk-in centres or minor injury units)
  • contact an out-of-hours service

Find information about urgent and emergency care services, including when to use them

Hospital care

NHS hospitals provide specialist care. Your GP can refer you to a hospital if they feel you need specialist treatment. You are also entitled to ask for a referral for specialist treatment if you think you need it.

Find information on NHS hospitals

Waiting lists

You are likely to be placed on a waiting list if you have been referred for specialist NHS treatment by a GP.

The waiting time starts from when the hospital or service receives your referral letter, or when you book your first appointment through the NHS e-referral service.

If you move home due to a posting in the UK, it is normal for your current place on any NHS waiting lists to be transferred to your new area.

However, this does not guarantee you will have the same waiting time.

Waiting times may be shorter or longer depending on the clinical need in the area you are moving to.

Get support for waiting list problems

If you or a family member have concerns over waiting lists stopping you from getting care, you can contact:

They can give you advice on how to handle any problems, including:

  • not being able to keep your place on a waiting list after moving
  • not being able to register with a local GP after moving or returning to the UK
  • not being able to access healthcare services you would usually be able to use

They can give you advice on how to handle the problem so you are not at a disadvantage in receiving your healthcare.

Priority treatment for veterans

If you have a health problem caused by your time in the armed forces, you will usually go on a waiting list before you receive care. However, you may be able to receive NHS care quicker than normal through priority treatment for veterans.

Priority treatment is not guaranteed. Receiving priority treatment depends on your situation and the nature of the treatment required. This includes:

  • if other people have a higher clinical need than you
  • the urgency of your treatment
  • the type of treatment you need

Check with a GP if you can get priority treatment for the NHS service care you need.

Paying for NHS care

Most NHS treatment is free, including hospital care, seeing a GP and using many of the services.

There are some areas that you will need to pay towards, including:

There are some exceptions in these areas of care. For example, if you hold a valid war pension exemption certificate, you may not have to pay for prescriptions.

Find more information about paying for NHS care, including exemptions

Healthcare for armed forces Commonwealth, Gurkha or Nepali personnel

You will not get free healthcare from the NHS after your discharge date from the UK armed forces if you are:

  • a citizen of a member of the Commonwealth
  • a Gurkha citizen
  • a Nepali citizen

In order to receive free healthcare through the NHS after this date, you must gain indefinite leave by using the immigration rules and process.

When to apply for UK settlement
  • you must apply within 2 years of your discharge date
  • the earliest you can apply is 18 weeks before your discharge date
  • it is recommended you apply as soon as possible after the 18 week point
  • you will not receive free NHS healthcare after your discharge date and before you have gained indefinite leave

The process may differ depending on how long you served and where you served, as well as if you have family members who are also looking to settle in the UK.

GOV.UK: Find more information on settling in the UK after serving in the armed forces

Find NHS services

If you need help from an NHS service but are unsure of how to find one, the NHS can help find services near you.

If you need more information, you can find more on our NHS services page.

Page last reviewed: 18 August 2021
Next review due: 18 August 2024