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National Health Service

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The National Health Service (NHS) is the publicly-funded health provider in the United Kingdom, started in 1948 by Aneurin Bevan (the Minister for Health in the Clement Attlee Labour government) following proposals starting in 1942. The service provides healthcare "from cradle to grave" that is "free at the point of use", including hospitals, general practice, specialist care, emergency care, preventative health, midwifery and maternity services, fertility and sexual health clinics, mental health services, opticians, prescription medicine and dentistry.

The NHS is not the only provider of healthcare in the UK - private-sector health providers also provide additional services for those who can pay, and an increasing number of people are using a mixture of both NHS services and private services, especially in the area of dentistry.

Prescriptions and dentistry are not completely free but have 'capped' charges - prescription medicines are free for children, those over sixty and those unable to pay, otherwise cost £7.10 for each prescription, or a maximum of £102.50 per year[1]. Dentistry is also free for children, the over sixties and those unable to pay, otherwise costing £16.20 per consultation, £44.60 for simpler treatments (fillings and extractions) and a maximum of £198 for complex operations[2]. In recent times, it has often been difficult finding NHS dentistry. The NHS also provides free eye tests to children, the elderly, blind and partially sighted people, those with diabetes, glaucoma or who are at risk of glaucoma, or those on Income Support or other benefits[3].


  1. Department of Health, NHS costs and exemptions
  2. NHS Choices, About NHS Dentists
  3. NHS Opticians FAQ