Guide to the NHS for International Students
The National Health Service and how it works can seem very complicated if you have never had to use the system before. The following guide should help.
Please note that student eligibility to use the NHS, and what eligible students need to do to access it, varies. It also may have changed since the UK left the EU; you should check the latest guidance online.
You can find out which countries have reciprocal healthcare arrangements with the UK on the NHS website:
Doctors in Cambridge
To access the National Health Service first you have to register with a Doctor.
When you go to register with a Doctor it is a good idea to take your student ID card along with proof of where you live. You will be asked to fill in some forms.
Once your have registered with a Doctor you will be sent an NHS card. This is your proof that you are registered for NHS treatment.
Please inform your College of your doctor’s name. Keep your card in a safe place and take it with you if you visit your Doctor, Dentist or Hospital. It can sometimes take several months for your card to arrive.
Please Note: Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many Cambridge doctors now ask you to register online.
What does NHS Registration entitle you to?
- Free consultation with your Doctor (General Practitioner)
- Free hospital treatment in Accident and Emergency
- Free hospital treatment if your Doctor recommends it
- Free contraceptive services
- Free maternity care.
What will I need to pay for?
- Any medication the Doctor prescribes for you
- Any dental treatment within the NHS scheme
- The cost of eye tests and glasses or contact lenses.
- Any forms or letters you may ask to be completed for you
- Some vaccinations.
The Role of the General Practitioner
The General Practitioner (usually known as a GP) is a general Doctor who has specialised in family health. They are therefore qualified to see anyone from small babies to the elderly. They are used to seeing patients with different health problems including skin disorders, gynaecological problems and contraception. Whatever health problem you have, the GP is usually the first Doctor you consult.
If you have a complicated problem or an illness that requires specialist advice, the GP will refer you to the appropriate Doctor or specialist. To get an appointment with a specialist can take many weeks. You may be able to be seen more quickly if you pay for private treatment (which can be expensive).
If you see a Doctor who wishes you to have medication he/she will usually produce an NHS prescription. You then take this to a pharmacy.
The standard charge for dispensary drugs is currently £9.35 per item on your prescription.
From time to time your Doctor may recommend buying drugs over the counter without a prescription. This is because they know that the particular drug recommended is cheaper this way (e.g. paracetamol). Under certain circumstances you may be able to claim free prescriptions.
Free Treatment, including prescriptions
If you are under 19 or pregnant or have certain medical conditions, you may automatically be eligible for free NHS treatment and prescriptions.
Full details of who is exempt is available online. Overseas students are entitled to apply for assistance with NHS charges but most overseas students will not meet the eligibility requirements for help. If you think you may be eligible complete form HC1.
Can I obtain more of my prescribed medication in the UK?
We can prescribe some of the more common medications, such as asthma inhalers, acne treatment, anti-depressants and contraceptive tablets. You would need to make an appointment with the GP to arrange this.
To make things as easy as possible, remember to bring your existing medication or prescription with you to the appointment and if possible any specialist letters or results of recent tests.
Please bear in mind that you may be given slightly different medication from the one originally prescribed, as local protocols vary and some medications from abroad are not available in the UK.
In some cases you will need to be referred to a local specialist before your medication is prescribed. Sometimes it may be easier to get supplies of your medication posted from home. This is particularly true for some American medications for ADHD which are not the same in the UK.
What do I do if I have an accident, or require emergency treatment?
In a serious emergency (e.g. difficulty breathing, chest pain, fracture, anaphylactic shock etc.), call 999 or 112 and discuss the situation with the operative who may summon an ambulance or a doctor.
If you live in college please also contact the Porter’s Lodge for help and advice; all the Porters are qualified First Aiders. The Accident and Emergency Department is based at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge.
For rapid advice in a non-emergency situation, there is a phone service managed by the NHS called NHS 111 which can be accessed by dialling 111 from any phone.
The service is staffed by a team of fully trained advisers, supported by experienced nurses and paramedics. They will ask you questions to assess your symptoms, then give you the healthcare advice you need or direct you straightaway to the local service that can help you best. That could be A&E, an out-of-hours doctor, an urgent care centre or a walk-in centre, a community nurse, an emergency dentist or a late-opening chemist.
Where possible, the NHS 111 team will book you an appointment or transfer you directly to the people you need to speak to. If NHS 111 advisers think you need an ambulance, they will immediately arrange for one to be sent to you. Give the 111 adviser their address and postal code and inform the Porters’ Lodge immediately (so a porter can direct the ambulance and open access gates/doors if necessary).
What do I do if I go on holiday?
NHS care in the UK
If you are going on holiday in the UK you will be eligible for NHS treatment wherever you go. It is sensible to take your NHS card with you. If you need to see a Doctor while you are away go to any GP and register as a temporary resident.
Healthcare cover abroad
Once you have received your NHS card you may be eligible for free treatment throughout the EU, and countries with a reciprocal health agreement. Since Brexit, there are two types of cover available.
You can apply for either:
- a UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC)
- a UK European Health Insurance Card (new UK EHIC), if you have rights under the Withdrawal Agreement
For most people, the UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) replaces the existing European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for new applications. They provide the same access to healthcare in the EU.
You can use an UK EHIC or GHIC to get state-provided medically necessary healthcare when you’re visiting an EU country.
Medically necessary healthcare means healthcare that cannot reasonably wait until you come back to the UK. Whether treatment is necessary is decided by the healthcare provider in the country you are visiting.
Please note you are not eligible for any treatments abroad until you receive a card. If you travel abroad before you have received a card it is essential to take out private insurance.
If you are travelling outside the EU or to any country which is not covered by a reciprocal health care agreement, you must have private medical insurance. The NHS will not help with medical costs incurred outside Europe. If you go skiing you must take out private insurance. An EHIC will not cover the cost of mountain rescue. Most dangerous sports require private insurance.
When you leave the UK
When your course finishes and you go home it is important to hand in your NHS card at emigration at the airport.
University Information on the NHS, for International Students
You should also have a look at the information on the central university website.