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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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Denmark registers first 2024 case of tick-borne encephalitis

This year’s first Danish case of tick-borne encephalitis has been registered in northern Zealand, the national infectious disease agency State Serum Institute (SSI) confirmed.

Denmark registers first 2024 case of tick-borne encephalitis

Although the disease is very rare in Denmark, there are usually a handful of cases each year. The forested area around Tisvilde Hegn and elsewhere in northern Zealand are particular risk zones along with parts of Bornholm.

“Infection is usually linked to spending time in risk areas, and typically going off the paths, Peter H.S. Andersen, doctor and head of department at SSI, said in a statement.

“But there have also been cases of TBE where the patient has not demonstrated known risk behaviour by going into in woods or thickets,” he added.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about ticks in Denmark and how to avoid them

Earlier this year, it was reported that people in Copenhagen and surrounding areas of Zealand have increasingly sought vaccination against tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) after an increase in ticks in parts of the countryside.

The risk of TBE remains small but case numbers have increased slightly in recent years. Some 11 cases were registered in 2023 compared with around 1 or 2 annually a decade ago.

Ticks (skovflåter) can be found all over Denmark in forests, meadows, and long grass. They are particularly active during the summer months and increase in number if the weather has been warm and humid.

In Denmark, the most common disease ticks transmit is Lyme disease, but ticks can also carry the very rare but dangerous TBE.

Only people who spend extended time in forests near Tisvilde Hegn as well as on the island of Bornholm should consider vaccination, SSI experts have previously said.

TBE is a viral brain infection caused by a particular tick bite. Flu-like symptoms can occur a week or more after the bite and can develop to include nausea, dizziness, and in around a third of cases, severe long-term problems or permanent neurological damage.

Denmark’s tick season last from spring until autumn.

In contrast to Lyme disease, the TBE virus infects its target quickly after the tick bite.

“That’s why it’s important to remove a tick as soon as you find it. Either with your fingers, a tweezer or a special tick remover,” Andersen said.