How to access free healthcare in the UK

how to access free healthcare in the UK

This article was written by the Great British Mag editorial team on 13 January 2021.

Feeling unwell is the pits and not knowing where to go or how to get treatment is a stressful situation to be in. So, in this article, we summarise where you can go to get treated and what is free under the international student healthcare surcharge.

UK Survival Service for international students

How do I access healthcare in the UK? 

There is a number of ways you can see or talk to a healthcare professional for advice or treatment. 

What number do I call in an emergency?

In the case of a life-threatening emergency, dial 999 for the emergency services. Tell the operator that you need an ambulance and, after asking a few questions, they will send one out to you. This service shouldn’t be used for anything that doesn’t require urgent attention. 

If you can, head to your nearest hospital yourself and look for the Accident and Emergency department or walk-in centre. It’s worth remembering that not every hospital has one, so it’s best to check before you set off. 

What number do I call for medical advice?

If you have a pressing medical problem and you’re not sure what to do, you can log onto the NHS 111 website or call 111 from your phone. Lines are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Whether you use the website or talk to an advisor the phone, you will need to be able to explain what is wrong with you. You can ask for a translator if you need one.

The NHS 111 service can:

  • Advise you how to access local health services
  • Connect you to a nurse, emergency dentist, pharmacist or GP
  • Arrange a face-to-face appointment if you need one
  • Book you an A&E arrival time to cut the wait short
  • Tell you how to get any medicine you need
  • Give you self-care advice

How do I arrange to see a doctor?

To get treatment for issues which don’t require an urgent response, phone the GP practice you registered with on your arrival to the UK and make an appointment to see a doctor either in person or arrange to speak to a doctor by phone or video call   

GP surgeries are usually open from around 8.30am until 6pm, and have an emergency out-of-office number that you can get from their website or by ringing the surgery telephone number.

Your GP surgery can treat most non-emergency issues including mental health-related matters, and also offers services such as vaccinations and prescribe repeat medication.

How do I arrange to see a dentist?

It is advisable to register with an NHS dentist when you arrive in the UK, as getting an emergency appointment can be difficult. If you develop any problems with your teeth and need to see a dentist urgently, you can contact NHS 111. 

There is no need to register with a dentist in the same way as with a GP, but be aware that dental surgeries will not always have the capacity to take on new NHS patients, so it is still advisable to sign up with one when you arrive in the UK.

Go to the NHS website to find a dentist near you. If you cannot find a local dentist call NHS England’s Customer Contact Centre on 0300 311 2233.

If you have registered with a dentist and develop a problem with your teeth out of hours, call the dentist or visit their website to find out what out-of-hours cover they provide.

How do I arrange to see an optician?

All students in full-time education can get a free eye test from any optician local to them. You can make an appointment by visiting the shop, calling them or booking an appointment via their website.

The optician can test your eyes and prescribe glasses, as well as repair glasses, often whilst you wait. In some opticians you can also buy contact lenses. 

What do I do if I have a sexually transmitted infection?

You can make an appointment with your GP or visit a dedicated NHS clinic. These can be located in hospitals or local healthcare centres and many offer appointments as well as a walk-in option, where you just turn up and wait to be seen. Here you can be tested for sexually transmitted infections, as well as get sexual health advice. 

What do I do if I think I have Covid-19?

If you have recently developed one or more of the main coronavirus symptoms – a high temperature, continuous cough, or loss of smell or taste – book a test as soon as possible through the NHS website. It’s important that you do not go to your GP surgery, health centre or hospital. You must stay at home and follow the quarantine rules.

You may also want to read

How to slow the spread of Coronavirus: A complete guide

Where to get help when your university is closed

Student mental health guide for international students