Culture Question:

I want to know how the British hospitals work

(posted: Oct 2009)

Britain has socialized medicine. This means that the majority of healthcare there is free, including hospital stays. It isn’t really free. The health care system, in Britain known as the National Health Service (NHS), is paid for through taxes. But when a person goes to the doctor, or is admitted to a hospital, he or she will not be billed for the medical care or medicines. Families do not go into debt to pay for basic medical treatment. 

The system does not pay for all health services though. A few things that are not covered by the NHS include eye tests, dental treatment and prescription drugs. And there are some treatments that will NOT be made available to a patient within this system. Some treatments are not considered cost-effective. Generally, in Britain the system’s cut-off amount is $45,000 U.S. (about 300,000 RMB) per year of life a patient would gain from a treatment.

According to Eben Harrelll, writing in Time magazine: “NHS patients wait an average of about eight weeks for treatments that require admission to a hospital, four weeks for out-patient treatments and two weeks for diagnostic tests. While NHS patients have a choice of hospitals, they cannot always choose their specialist.”3

The NHS, which was established in 1948, grew out of wartime changes Britain had made to its medical system during the Second World War. (See Gawande’s “Getting There from Here”, pages 1 and 2, for a more in-depth look at how this took place.) It is a system that the vast majority of people in Britain are happy with, though they love to complain about its problems.


  1. Barrow, Mandy. “Healthcare in Britain”, ( 25-Oct-2009

  2. Gawande, Atul. “Getting There from Here”, The New Yorker. January 26, 2009, ( 25-Oct-2009

  3. Harrell, Eben. “Is Britain’s Health-care System really that Bad?”, Time. Aug. 18, 2009.,8599,1916570-1,00.html) 25-Oct-2009

  4. P Spicker, 2008, “An introduction to social policy – Healthcare”, Aberdeen, Scotland: The Robert Gordon University, ( 25-Oct-2009

  5. Wikipedia. “National Health Service (England)”, ( 25-Oct-2009

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British hospital bed


Further Reading:

See the Sources at the end of the write-up