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Before you are ill!


Do not leave finding out about health care until you do not feel well! One of the first things that you should do when arriving in the UK is to find out whether you are eligible for NHS (National Health Service) treatment.  You will also need to inquire what arrangements your college has for medical treatment.  You should then register (through your college health centre if possible) with a local doctor (a General Practitioner or GP).

If you are ill

First visit your college health centre or the surgery of the doctor with whom you are registered.  College health centres often have special arrangements with local doctors.  If there is no health centre, visit the nearest doctor’s surgery or health centre.  You will be sent somewhere else if they cannot help you.  You may need to make an appointment to visit the doctor at a later time. 
You could also try using the NHS Direct service.  This is a website and telephone service that can be used by anyone, at any time of the day or night.  The website at has a lot of information about different illnesses and advice on treating less serious illnesses.  In England and Wales, you can call NHS Direct on 0845 4647 to talk to a nurse.  In Scotland, you can call NHS24 on 0845 424 24 24.


If you are very sick or have violent pain, then you should make your way to the Accident and Emergency department of your local hospital.  Use a taxi if you do not feel well enough to walk.  If you are extremely ill then use a telephone to dial 999 (UK only) or 112 (UK and other countries in Europe) and request an ambulance.

Paying for healthcare and prescriptions

Emergency treatment in an Accident and Emergency (or Casualty) department and from a local doctor (General Practitioner) is free. You may need to pay for other health services and prescriptions. Ask your college health centre or doctor’s surgery whether you can apply for an exemption certificate, which would enable you to receive treatment and prescriptions for free.


Dentists specialise in the treatment of teeth.  You may choose any local dentist.  Be sure to ask before you start having treatment if it will be paid for by the National Health Service or not.  If you have an exemption certificate (see above) you do not need to pay for dental treatmentIt is worth asking about dentists before you need them! Inquire first at your college health centre or international office, or if this is not possible, at any dentist.


During your visit to the doctor or dentist, you may be given a prescription.  This is a note describing the medicine you need.  You should take the prescription to a chemist Bottle of Pills shop which has a ‘pharmacy’.  The shop will supply you with the medicine.  There is usually a charge.  If you have an exemption certificate (see above) you do not need to pay for your prescriptions.


It is possible to buy some medicines for common ailments at the local grocery store, supermarket or chemist/pharmacy.  In a chemist shop or pharmacy, you can ask for advice if you do not feel well, for example if you have a headache or sore throat.  However if you continue to feel unwell you should go to see a doctor.

Optical treatment


If you need glasses go to any specialist optician or high street optician.  Compare the prices at several different shops before having your eyes tested or buying glasses as some shops are more expensive than others.

Private treatment

It is also possible to have all forms of medical treatment ‘privately’, i.e.  paid for by you rather than the National Health Service.  Talk to your doctor for details.  You will obtain treatment more quickly if you have private health cover than through the National Health Service, although the treatment itself will probably be the same. Be warned: private treatment can be very expensive.

Tap water

In the UK it is safe to drink water straight from the tap without boiling or other treatment.  The exception to this is if using a public toilet or building make sure that you only drink from a tap clearly marked as drinking water.  Some large buildings use water from a tank supply rather than the main.

Images: welcoming international students
in Guildford