If you are heading to Europe, you can apply for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which entitles you to medical treatment in state run hospitals in the EU, plus a number of other countries including Iceland and Norway. The EHIC replaced the E111 in 2006 and can be useful in an emergency, but it is not a substitute for insurance. Holders of an EHIC will pay the same cost for their treatment as a local, so if it’s free for the country’s residents, you will pay nothing. But if the locals pay towards healthcare, you too will have to stump up the cost.
You should also remember that the EHIC usually only covers treatment in state-run hospitals – and in some countries the standard of state hospitals is poor. You will also have to pay any repatriation costs as the card does not include the cost of a flight home if you fall ill or have an accident while on holiday.
The EHIC is free and you can apply online and over the phone (0845 606 2030) If you do need medical care, many travel insurers will waive the excess if you use the card.