Armed forces introduction 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.

Unless you are receiving specialist treatment for injuries caused by your time serving in the armed forces, you are likely to receive your healthcare through the NHS.

Find more information on specialist armed forces services, including:

NHS GP surgeries

GP surgeries are usually the first 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 cannot see a GP straight away.

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. You do not need to register with a GP surgery in the area you live.


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

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.

Find a GP.

Find more information about registering with a GP.

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
  • have knowledge of specialist NHS and MoD services designed specifically for member of the armed forces

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 opticians.

Accessing NHS care

If you have a health problem, there are several ways you can get help.

For most problems, talking to a GP is your first contact. They can refer you to a hospital for treatment or to a specialist health service if you need it.

Find information on how to get GP appointments and bookings.

Important information

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)

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.

Members of the armed forces community may be added to a waiting list if:

  • you are a veteran or non-mobilised reservist who has a health problem not caused by service
  • you are a serving personnel or mobilised reservist based in England who has chosen to receive hospital care outside of MoD specialist treatment
  • you are a family member of a veteran or serving personnel

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.

Maximum waiting times differ depending on your situation. The maximum for non-urgent referrals is 18 weeks.

You may also need to go on a waiting list if you are trying to register for a GP or dentist in your local area. This may happen if they are particularly busy.

If you move home due to a new posting in the UK, it is normal for you and your family will usually keep your places on any NHS waiting lists you are currently on.

Get support for waiting list problems

If you or a family member have concerns over waiting lists stopping you from receiving care, contact the Armed Forces Covenant or Families Federations (Navy, Army or Royal Air Force). This includes:

  • not keeping your place on a waiting list after moving
  • not being able to register with a local GP or dentist after moving or returning to the UK

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

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.

Commonwealth armed forces care

Members of the commonwealth armed forces receive free healthcare up to your discharge date.

In order to receive free healthcare through the NHS after this date, you must gain indefinite leave by applying to settle in the UK.

When to apply for UK settlement


  • you must apply within 2 years of your discharge date
  • the earliest you can apply is 10 weeks before your discharge date
  • it is recommended you apply as soon as possible after the 10 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 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.