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Healthcare in Edinburgh

Welcome to "Auld Reekie", as residents of the Scottish capital affectionately call their city. Life in Edinburgh has a lot to offer – not only for tourists and attendees of the local arts festivals. Our expat guide provides useful information on leisure, education, healthcare, and transport.
NHS Lothian is the public healthcare trust for the residents of Edinburgh.

The NHS: Public Healthcare in the UK

Most residents of Edinburgh, locals and foreign nationals alike, have access to medical services via the NHS, the UK’s public healthcare system.

When you sign up with a GP (general practitioner), you will enroll automatically with the National Health Service. You get a 10-digit number for your health records – don’t forget to keep track of it!

Most non-UK nationals who have free access to the NHS belong to one of these groups:

  • expats working in Scotland and their dependent family members
  • international students attending a Scottish school or university for more than six months
  • foreign nationals with indefinite leave to remain in the UK
  • residents with official refugee status

Private Health Insurance

If none of the criteria above applies to you or if you prefer private health insurance, you can always get another medical insurance plan. Patients in the UK’s private health sector benefit from shorter waiting periods, a wider range of treatments, and additional doctors and specialists to choose from.

The following companies are the four biggest players on the UK health insurance market, though there are also various other, smaller, insurance providers:

  • Aviva
  • Axa
  • Bupa
  • PruHealth

Your personal health insurance plan and its premiums obviously depends on a variety of factors, like your age, your general health, any pre-existing conditions, your current habits, etc. To find the best option you can afford, you might want to talk to an independent insurance broker before signing anything!

Finding Medical Services

Your family doctor or GP (general practitioner) will usually be your first point of referral in case of health issues – emergencies being the obvious exception. He or she can then refer you to a hospital or specialist for further treatment, if necessary.

To find a GP in your neighborhood, as well as other medical services (i.e. pharmacies and dentists), please check out the search engine on NHS24.com. You simply need the local post code of your new address in Edinburgh.

For more information on public healthcare facilities in the Edinburgh area (e.g. all public hospitals), also have a look at NHS Lothian.

In Case of Emergency

In case of a medical emergency, please dial 999 to call an ambulance. Alternatively, you can seek out the A&E department at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, St John’s Hospital, or the Royal Hospital for Sick Children on your own. Minor injuries are also treated at Western General Hospital between 8am and 9pm.

However, if you simply need health advice out of normal office hours, there is an NHS service hotline under 111. They will also help you to find the nearest open pharmacy.

Dental Care

For emergency dental treatment in Edinburgh, you can go to the Dental Clinic in Chalmers Street. Please note, though, that it tends to be rather crowded or very busy. If you call your dentist, their voicemail usually provides more information on where else to go for emergencies.

Mental Health

If you have mental health problems or a sudden crisis, there is help available in Edinburgh as well! For instance, there are several 24/7 hotlines that you can call, such as the Mental Health Assessment Service (0131 537 6000) or the Edinburgh Crisis Centre (0808 801 0414). They can give you further advice or direct you to more specific resources according to your personal situation.

Sexual Health

And if you are in urgent need of emergency contraception, testing for STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), or counseling and support after a sexual assault, also phone the NHS hotline via 111. They will refer you to the nearest available emergency clinic specializing in sexual health.

Private Patients

If you have a private healthcare policy, you can still use the public emergency resources listed above. But you’ll surely want to have a regular family doctor, dentist, etc. for check-ups and scheduled treatments. Please ask your individual insurance provider for a list of recommended GPs, specialists, and private hospitals in the Edinburgh area.

Our UK Expat Guide provides further information on health and insurance. Not only do we have the differences between the NHS and private health insurance in the UK; we also talk about various topics such as having a baby in the UK, local dentists, and UK pharmacies


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

Ruben Barbosa

"Whether it's the Edinburgh Fringe Festival or the Highlands -- such great opportunities to explore Scotland with my fellow expats."

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