Understanding the UK health service

The UK has a National Health Service (NHS) which provides its residents with various healthcare services. Please refer to the information below to find out if you are entitled to use them as an international student.

Free NHS Treatment

Certain NHS services are free for everyone, these include:

  • Emergency treatment (but not follow-up treatment)
  • Treatment of certain communicable (contagious) diseases
  • Compulsory psychiatric treatment
  • Family planning services (contraception)

You and your dependants will be entitled to additional free treatment if you fall under one of the following categories:

  • Your course of study is for six months or more, whatever your nationality; or
  • Your course of study is less than six months, and you are a European Economic Area (EEA) national. In this case you will need to apply for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) in your country of residence to prove that you are entitled to free treatment.

If you fall under one of the categories above, you will be entitled to access the following services for free:

  • Appointments with a Doctor or Nurse and use of Doctors' clinics and
  • Hospital treatment; both emergency and non-emergency.

If you do not fall into one of the categories above, we strongly advise you to take out medical insurance for the duration of your stay in the UK.

  • Find out more about Healthcare in England, including what you will and won't need to pay for.

Do I need to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge?

You may need to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) when you apply for your visa, if you are staying for more than 6 months.

You will still need to pay the IHS if you have private medical insurance. NHS England provides information for those moving from outside the European Economic Area (EEA), including more details on the IHS.

What will I have to pay for?

Even if you are entitled to free treatment, you may need to pay for:

  • Some GP (Doctor) services (e.g. prescriptions and certain vaccinations)
  • Dental and optical treatment
  • Medicines prescribed by your GP (Doctor)

If you are on a low income you may qualify for free prescriptions for medication and for help with the cost of your glasses or dental treatment. To see if you qualify you will need to complete a HC1 form available from Guild Advice at the Guild of Students. HC1 Form is also available online.

Health benefits do not count as “recourse to public funds” for the purpose of your visa, so claiming health benefits will not affect your immigration status. Detailed information on help with your medical expenses is available on the UKCISA website.

If you are not entitled to free NHS prescriptions and you will be receiving prescriptions on a regular basis, you can reduce your costs by purchasing a Prepayment Certificate (PPC). This certificate allows you to pay a set amount no matter how many NHS prescriptions you have. 

If you think you will have to pay for more than 5 prescription items in 4 months, or 14 items in 12 months, you may find it cheaper to buy a PPC. You can get a Prepayment Certificate application form from your GP surgery or pharmacy or apply for a Prepayment Certificate online.

Registering with a doctor

You should register with a Doctor as soon as possible when you arrive in the UK.

Find out how to register with a Doctor (GP) 

In an emergency

In a medical emergency you should telephone 999. The call is free.

The nearest Accident and Emergency (A&E) Department to the University is at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, near the University train station. If you have an accident or urgent medical problem you can visit the A&E Department to be seen by a Doctor.

You should only go to A&E in an emergency. You do not need to make an appointment, but you may have to wait several hours as people are seen according to the urgency of their medical situation. A&E is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

If you need medical help but it is not an emergency and your Doctor is unavailable, you may want to use a NHS walk-in centre. Pharmacies can also give advice on common illnesses such as colds and coughs.

You can also telephone NHS 111 if you need medical help or advice but it is not an emergency.

You will speak to trained advisers who are supported by healthcare professionals. NHS 111 is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by telephoning 111. The call is free

Checklist for International Students

See our Health Checklist for International Students to help you decide what you need to do.

If you are not well, you may need to take time out of your studies.For further information see advice on the Authorised Absence and Leave of Absence Procedures.

Please contact the IST to discuss this.



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