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What healthcare can I get on the NHS

This advice applies to Scotland


The law says that you can have an abortion in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy as long as certain rules are met. You can get an abortion on the NHS if two doctors agree. They must be certain that the abortion meets the rules. Usually the first doctor is your GP and the second is a doctor working at the hospital or clinic where the abortion takes place.

You can get general advice and information about getting an abortion from your GP or family planning clinics.

Help is also available from voluntary organisations, for example the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), which runs its own clinics. Some abortions at a BPAS clinic are paid for by the NHS. This depends on where you live. You can get more information about abortions on the BPAS website. The website has information in a range of languages, including Polish, Punjabi and Spanish.

If you can't get an abortion on the NHS, you'll have to pay privately. The price depends on how many weeks pregnant you are and which method is used to carry out the abortion.

You can find more information about abortions on the NHS inform website.

Alternative medicine

Some forms of alternative medicine (also known as complementary medicine) are available through the NHS from certain GPs and hospitals. Therapies that might be available through the NHS are acupuncture, osteopathy, homeopathy and chiropractic.


Ambulances provide both emergency and routine transport for NHS patients. Emergency ambulances can be contacted through the emergency telephone service (999). Ambulances for routine journeys can be arranged through GPs or hospitals.

Breast cancer screening

Breast cancer screening is available on the NHS at three-yearly intervals if you're a woman aged between 50 and 70. If you're a woman over 70, you can be screened on request. Contact your GP for more information.

You can find more information about NHS breast cancer screening on the NHS inform website.

Cervical screening

Cervical screening is available on the NHS every three to five years if you're a woman aged between 20 and 64. If you're a woman over 64, you can be screened on request. Contact your GP for more information.

You can find more information about NHS cervical screening on the NHS inform website.


See Podiatrists.

Community care

If you're elderly, disabled or mentally ill, you might need help to continue living at home. For example, you might need someone to come in and help with personal things like washing and dressing. Or you might need help with cooking or shopping. Community care services are provided by the social work department, not the NHS.

But if you need nursing care, this should be provided by the NHS. For example, your GP can arrange for a district nurse to visit you (see District nurses).

If you've been in hospital, you shouldn't be discharged until you've had an assessment of your continuing health care needs and, where necessary, of your community care needs. For example, a doctor might decide that you need a package of health and social care to be able to return home.

If you're discharged from hospital needing a high level of continuing health care, this should be provided and paid for by the NHS. This could be provided in a hospital, a care home, a hospice or your own home.

For more information about community care, see Social care and support.

For more information about continuing health care, see When the NHS can pay for ongoing care.


Contraceptive advice and supplies are available free on the NHS through GPs and family planning clinics.

You can get emergency contraception, for example the morning-after pill, from your GP, family planning clinics, most NHS walk-in centres and some pharmacies.

You can find more information about contraception on the NHS inform website.

Counselling services

Some GP practices provide free counselling services on the NHS. Contact your GP for more information.

You can find more information about counselling on the NHS inform website.


Find out how to register with an NHS dentist and what to expect from your dental treatment on

Most people have to pay for NHS dental treatment, although some groups of people, such as pregnant women and those getting certain benefits, get free treatment.

For more information about free dental treatment, see Help with health costs.

District nurses

District nurses are nurses employed by the NHS to provide nursing care for patients who live at home. For example, they can change dressings or give injections. They are based at GP surgeries and health centres and can also be contacted through local community nursing offices.

Eye tests

Optometrists carry out eye tests to check the quality of your sight. They look for signs of eye disease that may need treatment from a doctor or eye surgeon, and they prescribe and fit glasses and contact lenses. Opticians fit and sell glasses but they don't test eyes. They can give you advice on types of lens, such as single vision or bifocal and help you choose frames.

If you go to a high-street opticians, you'll have your eyes tested by an optometrist, but you don't have to buy your glasses there. You could take an optometrist's prescription to an optician who will sell you the glasses you need.

You can get free eye tests and you might qualify for help with the cost of glasses and contact lenses. This includes people who are:

  • under 18
  • under 19 and in full-time education
  • pregnant or have had a child within the 12 months before treatment starts
  • an NHS in-patient and the treatment is carried out by the hospital dentist
  • an NHS Hospital Dental Service out-patient
  • a Community Dental Service patient
  • entitled to certain benefits
  • on a low income.

For more information about who can get free optical treatment, see Help with health costs.

Fertility treatment

If you need fertility treatment and your GP refers you to a specialist for further tests, the NHS will pay for this. You have the right to be referred to a NHS clinic for a first investigation. But fertility treatment isn't widely available on the NHS and there can be long waiting lists. The treatment available also depends where you live and what the problem is. Your GP will tell if you're eligible for NHS treatment.

You can find more information about fertility treatment on the fertility Network UK website.

General practitioners (GPs)

Everyone is entitled to be registered with a GP. For help in finding a GP, contact your local health board. You can also search for local GP surgeries on the NHS inform website.

As well as providing health advice and treatment, GPs provide check-ups, take cervical smears, give vaccinations against infectious diseases (immunisations) and sign certificates for people who can't work because of illness. Many GPs also provide health promotion clinics, contraceptive services, minor surgery, counselling, maternity services and medical examinations for insurance and other purposes. GPs might charge for these services.

For more information about GPs, see NHS patients' rights.

Health services in prison

Prisoners should have access to the same range and quality of health services, including mental health services, as the general public receives from the NHS.

Health visitors

Health visitors provide support through the NHS for families with children under five and for older patients. They're normally based at GP surgeries.


See Palliative care.


Most NHS hospital admissions and appointments take place through referrals by GPs. You can go to the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department without a referral. You can also go to a special clinic for the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases without a referral.

For more information about hospitals, see NHS patients' rights.


See Vaccinations.

Long-term health conditions: self-management

You might live with a long-term health condition that has an impact on many aspects of your daily life. Self-management is a person-centred approach to better health and well-being.

A Local Information System for Scotland (Aliss) gathers knowledge about self-management, including links to local community support and NHS services, in an online platform. You can find more information about long-term health conditions on the Aliss website, including a facility to search for resources by local area.

You might also be interested in the NHS Chronic Medication Service.

Maternity services

If you're pregnant, several services are available to you:

  • midwives - your midwife might be based in a hospital or a local health centre or clinic. Midwives are responsible for the care of all normal pregnancies and labours. You don't need to be referred to a midwife by your GP
  • GPs - not all GPs provide ante-natal care and arrange for delivery. If your GP doesn't provide this service, you might want to register with another GP for your maternity care. You can find more information about local GP services on the NHS inform website
  • obstetricians based in hospitals - an obstetrician is a doctor who specialises in caring for women and children during pregnancy, at birth and after birth. Usually, an obstetrician will only get involved if there are complications. But you can ask to see an obstetrician even if your midwife or GP provides all your care.

Types of antenatal care

You might have choices about the type of ante-natal care you want and where you give birth. How much choice you have will depend on where you live. Your choices could include:

  • full hospital care - in practice, this would only happen if you need a high degree of medical intervention
  • shared care between your GP and the hospital - normally, you would return home shortly after your baby is born
  • a home birth - with care provided by a midwife and possibly a GP. You have the right to have your baby at home. If you choose this, you might need to contact the supervisor of midwives to arrange for this. You must be prepared to transfer from home into hospital if there are complications during labour or delivery.

You can get information on local maternity services from your local health board, a health visitor or a GP. This information will include:

  • the type of care offered
  • where the birth can take place
  • what pain relief is available
  • what tests are available and what they're for.

In some areas, there are maternity charters that set out the rights of pregnant women and new mothers and the standards of service you can expect.

If you're having problems getting the type of care you want or you need more information on maternity services in your area, you should contact the supervisor of midwives at your local maternity hospital or at your local health board.

Other help you can get when you're pregnant

If you're pregnant, you get free dental treatment from the time when the pregnancy is confirmed until one year after the birth.

For more information about free dental treatment, see Help with health costs.

If you're on a low income, you might also get other help if you're pregnant, for example vouchers to help with the cost of milk, fruit or vegetables. If you're under 18 and pregnant, you can get this help whatever your income.

For more information about help if you're on a low income, see Extra help if you're on benefits or your benefits have stopped.

NHS Chronic Medication Service

The Chronic Medication Service is an NHS service for people with a long-term health condition that is likely to last longer than a year and needs ongoing medical care, for example high blood pressure or diabetes. The service is available at pharmacies across Scotland and aims to help people manage their medicines.

The Chronic Medication Service might be able to offer serial prescriptions, enabling you to get medicines directly from the pharmacist without having to see a doctor. 

You can find more information about the Chronic Medication Service on the NHS inform website.

NHS Pharmacy First Scotland

NHS Pharmacy First Scotland is an NHS service provided by your local community pharmacy. If you have a minor illness, a pharmacy is the first place you should go for advice. You don't usually need an appointment, and you can go to any pharmacy.

You can use NHS Pharmacy First Scotland if you're registered with a GP practice in Scotland or you live in Scotland.

Read more about NHS Pharmacy First Scotland on the NHS inform website.

Older people's services

You can get a number of NHS services if you're an older person. For example, GPs should offer annual health checks to patients aged 75 or over. Help is available from health visitors and district nurses - see Community care.

Palliative care

Palliative care (sometimes called terminal care) is the treatment of symptoms when a cure is no longer considered an option - in other words, when someone is dying. Palliative care concentrates on:

  • controlling pain and other symptoms
  • improving the quality of life for the patient and their family
  • meeting the patient's social, emotional and spiritual needs.

NHS palliative care might be given in hospital or at home. There are also NHS hospices that provide care for patients as well as hospices run by voluntary organisations.

You can find information about how to find a hospice on the Hospice UK website.

You can find more information about the help and support available when you or someone you know is dying on the Marie Curie Cancer Care website.


Pharmacists (also known as chemists) are responsible for dispensing medicines. They can also provide free information and advice about many common medical problems. 

Some specially trained pharmacists are pharmacist independent prescribers. These are pharmacists who can assess patients with diagnosed or undiagnosed conditions and make decisions about the treatment needed, including prescribing many drugs, for free without you needing to see a doctor. Your health board can tell you if there's a pharmacist independent prescriber near you.

You can find your local health board on the NHS Scotland website.


Physiotherapy is physical treatment that helps you regain use of your body after an injury or disease. It's also used to slow the progression of long-term conditions. It's available through the NHS to patients referred for treatment by GPs or hospitals.

Podiatrists (chiropodists)

Podiatry (chiropody) might be available on the NHS for free, although this depends on your local health board. Each case is assessed on an individual basis, and whether you get free treatment depends on how serious your condition is and your risk factor. If your health or mobility isn't affected, you're considered to be low risk and you might not get NHS podiatry. If you have diabetes, you're treated as a high-priority case. You must normally be referred to a podiatrist by a GP or clinic. If you don't qualify for NHS treatment, you'll need to arrange private treatment.


Doctors, dentists, community pharmacists and some nurses can prescribe a range of drugs and appliances on the NHS. They can normally only prescribe a limited quantity of a drug at any time, usually one month's supply.

School health

Health checks on schoolchildren are carried out by school nurses. These tests include tests on hearing, sight and growth. Parents have the right to be present at these checks. School nurses also provide health education and general advice on managing health problems in school.

Sexual and reproductive health clinics

Several clinics provide specialist sexual health and reproductive health services. At these clinics you can get services like:

  • family planning
  • termination
  • well woman advice and information
  • services for young people.

If you want to use these services, you can go directly to the clinic. You don't have to go to your GP to access sexual or reproductive health clinics. The clinics are usually based in hospitals.

You can find your nearest sexual health clinic on the NHS inform website.

Substance misuse

Some people use substances such as alcohol or drugs on a regular basis without any problems. Other people experience damaging psychological and physical effects as their habit turns into an addiction. Many organisations provide treatment, support and advice for people with addictions. You could choose to consult your GP first, but help is also available from community addiction centres where you can drop in without an appointment. Treatment and support is provided by a range of people, including specialist nurses, counsellors and psychiatrists.

You can find more information about alcohol abuse on the NHS inform website.

Travel to hospital for treatment

You might be able to get essential travel costs paid to and from hospital for NHS treatment, for example if you're on a low income or getting benefits like Income Support, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, the guarantee part of Pension Credit, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance or Universal Credit.

Read more about help with health costs.


Vaccinations (also called immunisations) protect you against infectious diseases. The NHS provides vaccinations for children and some adults. You might need to pay for vaccinations for overseas travel.

For more information about vaccinations, contact your GP. You can also find information about vaccination on the NHS inform website.

More information

You can get information about health conditions and NHS services from the NHS inform helpline on 0800 22 44 88. Lines are open Monday to Friday, 8am to 10pm, and Saturday and Sunday, 9am to 5pm. You can also visit the NHS inform website. Information is available on this website in a range of languages and formats, for example, audio format.

Health advice and support outside GP surgery or dentist opening hours is available from NHS 24 by phone on 111. You can also find a number of self-help guides on the NHS inform website

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