Accessing and using the NHS in Scotland

The Charter of Patient Rights and Responsibilities summarises what you’re entitled to and what’s expected of you when you:

  • use NHS services
  • receive NHS care in Scotland

It also explains what you can do if you feel that your rights haven’t been respected.

Accessing and using the NHS in Scotland

The ‘Accessing and using NHS services in Scotland’ section of the charter explains your rights when using NHS health services.

Your health needs

Your health board must take your needs into account but must also consider the rights of other patients, medical opinion and the most efficient way to use NHS resources.

You must never be refused access because of your:

  • age
  • sex
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • disability
  • sexual orientation
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage or civil partnership
  • pregnancy or maternity

Cost of NHS services

The majority of NHS services are provided free of charge, including:

  • GP practices
  • local pharmacies
  • hospitals
  • clinics
  • emergency services
  • eye examinations
  • dental examinations

Services that you may have to pay for include:

  • NHS dental treatments (in most cases)
  • glasses and contact lenses (in most cases)

Further advice on accessing NHS treatment

You can find out more about accessing NHS treatment in the following pages:

Registering with a GP practice

Every person in Scotland has the right and the responsibility to register with a GP.

Your GP is usually your main point of access to medical services and referrals to hospital.

If you move out of the area or are physically or verbally abusive to people at the practice, your GP may have cause to remove you from their register.

Find out how you to register with a GP

Attending appointments

It’s important that you make every effort to go to your appointments as missed appointments can have a negative effect on other patients’ care.

You should always:

  • arrive on time
  • let staff know if you’re going to be late
  • let staff know as soon as possible if you can’t keep your appointment
  • make sure you’re in at the agreed time if you’re expecting a home visit
  • let the Scottish Ambulance Service know if you no longer need ambulance transport by phoning 0300 123 1236

Contact information

Your GP practice, dental practice, optician and any hospital or clinic you go to need to know how to contact you.

It’s important that you tell them if you change:

  • name
  • address
  • phone number
  • email

Registering with an NHS dentist

An NHS dentist helps you look after your teeth, gums and other parts of your mouth.

Find out to access NHS dental treatment in Scotland.


You have the right to be given information in a way you understand about:

  • your medicines
  • the possible side effects of medicines
  • other options which may be available to you

You can expect that any medicines your doctor or other qualified health care professional prescribes will be appropriate for you.

It’s important to take responsibility for your own treatment and care by:

  • asking for more information if you’re unsure how to take your medicine
  • ordering repeat prescriptions in plenty of time
  • always following your treatment plan, agreed with your health professionals
  • telling NHS staff if you have any allergies to medication
  • always finishing your course of treatment
  • not taking prescription medication that isn’t prescribed to you
  • storing medications safely, as directed and out of reach of children

The Medicines in Scotland, What’s the right treatment for me? booklet explains how you can work with the NHS staff to decide whether you need a particular medicine.

Further information on getting your prescription

Safe and effective care

When receiving NHS care or treatment, you have the right for this to be provided with reasonable care by properly qualified staff.

The care and treatment you receive must be:

  • suitable for you
  • carried out lawfully
  • based on appropriate clinical guidance and standards

You can expect health care premises to meet standards of hygiene agreed by the NHS and monitored by the Healthcare Environment Inspectorate (HEI).

Hygiene and cleanliness

You can help prevent the spread of infection in NHS premises by always washing your hands. Use the hand gel provided before entering a hospital ward, particularly after using the toilet.

You should avoid visiting a patient in hospital or a resident in a care home if you’re feeling unwell, or if you or anyone in your household is suffering from vomiting or diarrhoea.

If you visit someone in hospital, do not sit on their bed or touch dressings, drips or other equipment.

You should always ask ward staff before bringing food, drink or flowers for someone you are visiting in hospital.

Staff should always wash their hands before they examine you. If you think a member of staff has forgotten to wash their hands you should ask them to do so before examining you.

Provide feedback

If you think NHS premises are not as clean as they should be, let a member of staff know.

You can also report any concerns to the Healthcare Environment Inspectorate or contact Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) directly on 0131 623 4300.

Using health services properly

To use health services properly, remember:

  • GP practices and local pharmacies can provide routine treatment and medical advice
  • Accident and Emergency departments (A&E) should only be attended in an emergency
  • phone the NHS 24 111 service if your GP practice is closed and you feel you can’t wait until it reopens
  • ambulances should only be called if a life is in danger

Organ donation

When using NHS services, you should expect your wishes about organ and tissue donation to be respected after your death.

To find our more information or to become an organ or tissue donor, visit the NHS Organ Donor Register.

Treatment within 12 weeks

Patients who are due to receive treatment have a right to receive the treatment within 12 weeks from the date they agree to the treatment.

This is known as the Treatment Time Guarantee (TTG) and forms part of NHS Scotland’s waiting times service.

Not all treatments are covered in the treatment time guarantee.

Read more about waiting times

Cancer waiting times

If you’re an adult with a newly diagnosed primary cancer type (such as breast, lung, head and neck) your health board should provide treatment within the following time scales:

  • within 31 days from when the decision was made to treat your cancer
  • within 62 days from being referred urgently with suspected cancer

These timescales include referrals from national cancer screening programmes.

You can ask NHS staff if your cancer treatment is covered by the national waiting standard.

Mental health waiting times

If you have a mental health problem that requires support through specialist services, your health board should provide you with treatment within the following timescales:

  • 90% of those referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) should begin treatment within 18 weeks
  • 90% of people referred for psychological therapies should begin treatment within 18 weeks

Travel health

It’s important that you consider your health care needs when travelling abroad.

Each country has a different health care system, some expect patients to pay towards the cost of their treatment.

Before you travel:

  • find out about the country you’re visiting and their health system
  • take out travel insurance to ensure that you’re fully covered

Last updated:
19 January 2023