This article was published by the Great British Mag content team on 5 October 2021
The NHS offers many medical services all free of charge. However, to access all the fabulous services that the NHS provides, you will need to register with a General Practitioner(GP) first.
Registering with a GP
The GB Mag team recommends you register with a GP when you first arrive. It may seem strange to be visiting a doctor when you are not sick, but the sooner you register with a GP, the better. That way when you do need to see a doctor you won’t have a problem in getting an appointment.
A lot of universities have their own doctor’s practice, and you’ll be given information on how to register.
Typically, to register at your nearest surgery, you’ll need to take your passport, proof that you’re a student (i.e. your student card) and evidence of your UK address (your accommodation contract will do for this). Once you’ve registered you’ll be posted a card or a letter with your NHS number on it.
Your NHS number is what gives you full access to the NHS’s services so keep it in a safe place.
How do I make an appointment to see a doctor?
Each surgery will have different rules for making an appointment. They can get pretty busy so it’s best to try to book by phone or at the surgery’s reception, as far in advance as possible. Most surgeries reserve part of the day for emergency or drop-in appointments, so do tell the receptionist if your problem is urgent.
If the doctor prescribes you medicine they will write what you need on official headed paper (called a ‘prescription’) which you must take to a pharmacy. Pharmacies in the UK always have a green cross on their exterior.
What’s the fastest way to see a doctor?
If it is an emergency, you should go to your nearest Accident & Emergency (A&E) ward. If you cannot go there, call 999 and tell the operator that you need an ambulance to come to you.
If it is not an emergency—for example, you think you have an ear infection—you can visit your local walk-in NHS clinic. You do not need an appointment at one of these clinics; you can simply walk in (hence the term “walk-in clinic”).
Walk-in clinics are staffed with doctors, nurses, and nurse practitioners, all of whom are qualified to diagnose common ailments. They can prescribe medication and treatment. If they are unable to treat you, they will refer you to someone who can.
The NHS website also offers extensive healthcare information and also operates a 24-hour helpline for specialist advice, which can be reached on 0845 4647 or 111. This is a NON-EMERGENCY helpline. If it is an emergency, always dial 999!
Do I need to see a doctor to get medicine?
It depends on what kind of medicine you need. In the UK there are two kinds of medicine: “over-the-counter” and prescription.
Over-the-counter medicines are for minor injuries and illnesses—for example mild pain relief, cold and flu medication, lozenges to soothe sore throats, small bandages, and anti-bacterial gels. You do not need to see a doctor to get any of these things. You can buy them at supermarkets, at health and beauty stores like Boots or Superdrug, or at pharmacies.
Over the counter medicines are strong enough to deal with common ailments like colds and headaches. For more serious problems, such as infections or strong painkillers, you will need a prescription medicine. You cannot get prescription medicines without a doctor’s note. They are only available at pharmacies; high-street stores and supermarkets do not carry them.
What should I do if I have a pre-existing condition?
If you have any pre-existing conditions or are undergoing medical treatment, there are steps you can take to ensure that the transition from your home country to the UK will be as quick and easy as possible.
First, ask your current doctor to write you an up-to-date summary of your condition. The summary should include the details of your condition, current management, recent test results and prescribed medication. The summary needs to be written in English. If the summary needs to be translated into English, make sure you use a registered translator to ensure that it is accurate.
If you are taking medication on a long-term basis, aim to bring a three-month supply with you to the UK. That way you’re certain to have enough when you first arrive.
When you arrive in the UK, register with a GP as soon as possible and make an appointment to discuss your medical needs.
You should also talk to your lecturers as soon as possible. If they are aware of your needs, they will do their best to accommodate them and make it easier for you to do well at university. Do not be afraid to tell your lecturers exactly what you need; they will not think less of you