For members


What are the rules on accessing the UK health service if you live in Denmark?

If you're British and live in Denmark you will previously have been registered with the National Health Service, but once you move abroad things change - here's what this means for accessing UK healthcare both on a regular basis and if you have an accident or fall sick while on a visit back to the UK.

What are the rules on accessing the UK health service if you live in Denmark?
An NHS healthcare professional. Can Brits and other nationals who live in Denmark use the NHS when in the UK? File photo: Peter Nicholls/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

The NHS is described by the British government as a “residence-based health service” which means that if you don’t live in the UK you’re not automatically entitled to NHS care, even if you are a British citizen and even if you still pay tax in the UK.

However funding, access and care rules can vary depending on your circumstances.

Moving to Denmark

All persons who are registered as resident in Denmark and have been issued with a personal registration number are entitled to all public health services.

In some cases, you can also use Denmark’s public health system if you are not a permanent or temporary resident of the country.

Here’s how to go about accessing Denmark’s health system after arriving in the country.

Denmark’s health services included under the public health system provide you with a family doctor or GP as well as free specialist consultations and treatments under the national health system, should you be referred for these.

It should be noted that, as previously reported by The Local, foreign nationals can experience extended waiting times on residence applications in Denmark. Since they may not have automatic access to the public health system during this time, some decide to take out private health insurance to cover the waiting period.

READ ALSO: Applying for residency in Denmark: Why you might need health insurance during processing period

Can I stay registered with my UK GP?

No, you need to have a local address to be registered with an NHS GP. In practice, many people don’t get around to telling their GP that they have moved and so stay registered for months or even years, but technically you should notify your GP so that you can be removed from the NHS register. 

Even if you do remain registered with a UK GP, they won’t be able to issue prescriptions for you in Denmark as most UK GPs are not licensed to practice outside the UK – therefore are not covered by insurance.

If you are on regular medication it may be possible for your GP to issue you with an advance stock of medication to cover you while you get settled in Denmark, but many prescriptions are limited to a maximum of three months.

What about travelling outside Denmark?

Once you’re registered in the Danish system you will be able to get a European health insurance card, the blå EU-sygesikringskort (blue EU health insurance card).

This covers medical care while on trips in Europe and basically the same as the EHIC you might have had while you were registered in the UK but it’s not issued automatically, you have to request it.

You must have legal residence in Denmark and be a resident of an EU country or the UK, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland or Liechtenstein to be eligible for the card in Denmark. The UK is included here under an agreement with the EU following Brexit. The card can be applied for here.

If travelling outside of Europe – for example, a holiday in the US – you need to ensure that you have travel insurance with full medical cover in case of any mishaps while abroad. 

What about trips back to the UK?

Although your day-to-day healthcare may be covered by the Danish system, there’s still the possibility or falling sick or having an accident while on a trip back to the UK. 

The Danish blue EU health insurance card covers all trips in the EU and European Economic Area, as well as Switzerland and the UK.

The card covers essential treatments that you receive while in the UK but not those which medical personnel deem can wait until you return home.

If you are charged for medical care while in the UK because you do not have a UK address, and think you should have been covered by the blue health card, you can apply for the costs to be refunded after you return to Denmark.

In practice, most UK nationals who need to use the NHS while on trips back to the UK report that no-one ever thinks to ask whether they are UK residents.

Some Brits living in Denmark may keep their registration with a UK GP and make regular trips back to get prescriptions, but while this can happen in practice it does involve lying or at least being economical with the truth about where you live.

Emergency care

There are certain types of NHS care that are not charged for, such as A&E treatment or treatment from paramedics, but if you need to be admitted to hospital you may have to pay.

NHS hospitals won’t turn you away if you cannot prove residency, but they may present you with a bill when you leave if you cannot prove either residency or health cover in a European country.

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For members


What exactly is wrong with the Danish health system?

The Danish government has implemented an emergency plan to improve the country's health system, which is currently under strain. But what exactly are the problems facing Denmark's health service and what is being done about it?

What exactly is wrong with the Danish health system?

What’s going on with the Danish health system?

The government in Denmark is trying to tackle a health system under pressure. Nurses are leaving the profession, waiting times for operations have increased by 50 percent over the last three years and there’s concern that soon patients’ health will be compromised.

“Perhaps we are actually seeing the end of the welfare society as we know it”, warned Kristian Antonsen, hospital director of Bispebjerg and Frederiksberg Hospital, earlier this year in the doctors’ journal Ugeskrift for Læger.

Jes Søgaard, professor of health economics at the University of Southern Denmark told The Local he believes there are four factors why the Danish health system is under pressure.

“Over the last ten years, there’s been increased patient pressure. The population is getting older and the budget hasn’t increased accordingly since 2016. Nurses are the ones who have especially felt the burden, with fewer nurses and an increasing number of patients.

“The second reason is the Covid-19 crisis. With additional patients, nurses felt they took a lot of the extra pressure. They often felt working conditions were unsafe, they didn’t have the necessary protection but also felt they were transferred to wards, for example intensive care, where they weren’t qualified and that created additional frustration among nurses. They feel underpaid.

“Thirdly, the nurses’ strike during the summer of 2021 created more tension,” Søgaard explained. 

Nurses began a strike over pay and working conditions in June 2021. A collective bargaining deal rejected by the nurses’ trade union DSR was eventually enforced by government intervention and a pay agreement was imposed. This then caused more nurses to leave the profession and there’s since been an increase in hospital waiting lists.

“A fourth factor could be the increasing number of patient referrals, especially among the elderly, that are complicated because the patient has more diseases than the one they’ve been referred for. This is time consuming, so over the last twelve months, the hospitals haven’t been able to cope with that demand and that creates tension in the population,” Søgaard said.

How bad is the situation?

“It’s bad. Not as bad as the NHS in the UK, but quite bad. This is not the time to have a stroke,” Søgaard said, referring to the number of therapy treatments that would be delayed.

Kjeld Møller Pedersen, professor of health economics and health policy at the University of Southern Denmark, told The Local he’s never seen the healthcare system so pressurised.

“Increased waiting lists, recruitment problems and in general the whole health system is very much stressed, from what I can recall, more than it’s ever been,” he said. 

But Pedersen added that patients should not be concerned about the quality of care they receive.

“The pressure is reflected in waiting times and lists but once you’re in hospital, you get sufficient care,” he said.

The Danish public health system guarantees patients an appointment within 30 days of referral. If this is not possible, the patient can be referred for private treatment. The guarantee was suspended during the coronavirus crisis but since it resumed, there has been a backlog, increased by the nurses’ strike.

In 2021, there were more than 180,000 patient referrals to private hospitals from the regional public health services. In 2020, the number was almost 148,000.

The 30-day treatment guarantee comes at an extra cost for hospitals and has also led to more staff moving to private care, Pedersen warned.

“I think the government is hoping the increased use of private hospitals to carry out procedures is what will save them and is what may reduce the waiting lists,” he added.

Healthcare system Denmark

Ditte Hammer works at Bispebjerg and Frederiksberg Hospital. Nurses say they are increasingly pressured and also have to spend time on non-professional tasks such as emptying the dishwasher and cleaning. Photo: Asger Ladefoged/Ritzau Scanpix

What can be done?

According to both Søgaard and Pedersen, a solution to the staff shortage is essential to addressing the health system’s problems.

“In my mind, the real bottle neck is manpower. There’s a shortage of nurses and in particular specialised nurses in intensive care and anaesthesia and it’s this that is causing a waiting list for operations,” Pedersen explained to The Local.

There is currently a shortage of around 5,000 nurses, according to the Danish Nursing Council (DSR), the trade union for nurses in Denmark.

“We have seen a drop in productivity between six and seven percent in 2022 compared to 2019, on top of staff shortage. This is because experienced nurses have left and been replaced by young nurses or nursing assistants.

“The only way to solve this in the short-run, is to get the experienced nurses back and the only motivation for this, is raising salaries by 5,000 kroner, including pension. Nurses want to get to 43,000 kroner a month,” Søgaard explained.

Pedersen agrees that increased salaries will help recruit more nurses but said the solution is not simple.

“The government has used the term ’emergency plan’ to rectify what is happening at the moment, such as increasing recruitment, promising economic gain if nurses come back to the profession and increasing the capacity for training nurses to become specialised in anaesthesia and intensive care.

“Some nurses have moved into the private health sector with better conditions, others have left the health profession entirely and they are very difficult to get back. The stumbling block is salary and it’s difficult to increase nurses’ wages and not do the same for midwives, physiotherapists, nurse assistants.

“However, the number of nurses in [care] homes and those assisting GPs in the municipalities is increasing. This is because they are not plagued by the 24-hour requirement to be on rota. Working conditions are also just as important as pay,” Pedersen said.

There were 18 percent fewer applicants entering nursing training programmes last year compared to 2019, according to Ministry of Education admission figures. The national organisation for municipalities, KL, estimates that by 2030, there will be a shortage of almost 16,000 social and healthcare assistants (Social og sundhedsassistent – SOSUs) across the country. 

Recruitment is also affecting mental health services, with a national shortage of psychiatrists. An average of one in four patients had their referrals to mental health services rejected in several of Denmark’s regions, according to reports last summer.

What’s the long-term solution?

The government has formed a ten-year plan costing four billion kroner a year to overhaul the mental health sector. 

A wider review of the whole healthcare system is planned for this year. During government coalition negotiations last December, the three parties – the Social Democrats, Liberals (Venstre) and Moderates – were unable to form a proposal for health service reforms so instead appointed a commission of experts to make recommendations by spring 2024.

The Moderates, led by Lars Løkke Rasmussen, previously said they wanted the the Danish Regions, the elected bodies which operate hospitals in Denmark’s five regions, to be scrapped in favour of a new system.

“At the moment we have five regions and in a sense they run healthcare, including the hospitals, doctor’s surgeries, office-based specialists. Then the municipalities provide home nursing, nursing homes and extra services,” Pedersen explained.

“The regions get funding from central government and block grants and they are controlled at an economic level very tightly. They have to stick to the budgets and it’s very difficult to get extra funding during a fiscal year,” Pedersen added.

Søgaard believes the regional system is effective because it takes local geographical needs into account and the fact that regional representatives are elected means the public interest is more likely to be voiced on their boards.

“The decentralised structure has been in Denmark for almost forever. We would never have a state-run system,” he said.

Whether a restructure of the heath system solves the current pressures, remains to be seen. In the meantime, the government will hope its short-term strategies are enough to avert a healthcare crisis.