A Guide to the NHS for Students

For the thousands of international students that will head to the United Kingdom to begin studies at university in the coming months, knowing how to register with an NHS GP will be really important. There is so much to sort out when you decide to study abroad, from enrolling on your course and meeting new people, to finding student housing and possibly even a part-time job. It's little surprise that registering with the NHS is one of the last things on your mind so we've compiled a handy guide to get you started.

What is the NHS?

NHS stands for National Health Service, and as the name suggests, it is the state-run, publicly funded health care service in the UK.  UK citizens qualify for free treatment from the NHS, however those visiting for longer periods from overseas may not. Doctors, dentists, hospitals, opticians and pharmacies are often all run by, or affiliated to, the NHS.

Having access to the National Health Service also allows you to access a range of specialists and consultants at facilities across the UK, as well as access to surgery when required for some conditions or injuries. Prescribed medication is also subsidised through the NHS, making treatment affordable with a current cost of £8.60 per prescription – no matter how expensive the medication actually is.

There are other NHS services you can take advantage of, including a telephone line that you can call for advice called on symptoms you are experiencing.  This is called NHS 111. In addition to the helpline, there is also a website on which more information can be sought (www.nhs.uk).  NHS walk-in centres are also now commonplace, allowing you to drop-in to see a doctor or nurse without a pre-arranged appointment. However, you can find yourself hanging around in a waiting room for several hours with waits of 2-4 hours a common occurrence.

What is a GP Surgery/Medical Centre?

Firstly, GP stands for General Practitioner. GPs are doctors working from 10,000 GP surgeries/medical centres across the UK.  You should register with a NHS GP surgery as a priority when you come to the UK or move cities as GP surgeries have catchment areas.

If you have a health complaint or illness, your first step will be to make an appointment with your GP.  He/she can diagnose your problem and either prescribe medication or a method of treatment, or further referral to a specialist at a hospital when required.  A GP should be your first point of contact before seeing a specialist as many specialist doctors will need referral letters from GPs.

Where is your closest GP, and what else should you look for?

Once you have arrived in the UK and completed your immigration process, you are then able to register with a local GP. You can search for a local GP through the NHS choices website (www.nhs.uk.)

Once you have identified a GP surgery that you’re interested in registering with, you should call them and ask whether they are open to new patient registrations.  Additionally, it’s worth asking questions such as how long the average wait is to get an appointment with a GP and what the process for making a GP appointment is.  You can also check online reviews of the GP surgery.  You will be asked to take registration documents including photo ID and proof of address to the GP surgery to register.

Whilst it is recommended that you register with a NHS GP, there are also other services available if you need medical attention. Private GP services do not typically require any pre-registration and can offer you speed and convenience with speaking to a doctor.  MedicSpot is such a service which provides online GP appointments from its network of pharmacies at very short notice across the UK.

How much does the NHS cost?

While the NHS is free to UK citizens, students from overseas will be required to pay for healthcare if they are non-EAA citizens, or no reciprocal healthcare agreement exists between the UK and your country of citizenship.

If your stay is going to be less than six months, you should obtain travel insurance that covers you for healthcare while you’re travelling to the UK.  If your stay is more than six months, then you will be required to pay a health surcharge during the immigration process.

For international students, healthcare in the UK costs £150 per visa, per year.  Beyond 12 months, each additional six month period is charged at £75. Students should complete the necessary sections of the visa application form and ensure that the surcharge has been paid ahead of arriving in the UK. This is done via the surcharge website.

Students who are citizens in Australia or New Zealand will not be required to pay for healthcare in the UK, but will still need to complete the process via the health surcharge website.  While the payment you will be required to make will be nil, you will need the unique surcharge reference number that it provides.

Students who are citizens in the EU will be entitled to free healthcare with the NHS, but to be eligible you must obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EIHC) before leaving your native country.

Should you see your GP or go to A&E?

The term “A&E” stands for accident and emergency. A&E departments are found in many hospitals around the UK and are incredibly busy, often involving a long wait to see a doctor.  For this reason, it’s important to note that you should only go to A&E if your injury or illness is serious or life-threatening.

You can utilise services such as calling 111 or visiting your local pharmacy for health advice as you may not need to see a doctor for your ailment.  Otherwise, your best cause of action is to make an appointment with your NHS GP. Appointments can sometimes be made on the same day by telephoning first thing in the morning, but you may also have a wait of several days or weeks until there is availability.  MedicSpot offers short notice GP appointments at an affordable price.