Information for international students

Before you leave home

  • If you have a significant health problem and/or require regular medication it would be helpful if you bring a letter from your doctor back home explaining your diagnosis and treatment
  • Some medications may not be available in the UK or difficult to get at short notice, so make sure you bring adequate supplies for at least a month of treatment.
  • Try to have your vaccinations up to date
  • Anyone who comes to the United Kingdom (UK) to pursue a full-time course of study at least six months long, or a course of study that is of any duration but is substantially funded by the UK Government, or is a European Union (EU) student will be fully entitled to free NHS hospital treatment in England. Check if you are entitled to use the NHS.
  • If you do not fall into this category, make sure you have obtained health insurance before you leave home

When you arrive in the UK

This information is primarily about the UK state healthcare system called the National Health Service (NHS).

Register with a NHS General Practitioner (GP) as soon as possible. This is the way to access all NHS care. The links below detail how to find a doctor and how to use the NHS:

Immunisations for the UK

Current UK guidelines recommend the following immunisations for all adults:

  • Tetanus
  • Diphtheria
  • Polio
  • If you are under 24 years of age and attending university for the first time, it is strongly recommended that you have the Men ACWY vaccine. Meningitis is a serious infection which can kill.

Some students may have additional requirements. The following are not routinely offered to all students:

  • Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) - There were outbreaks of mumps and measles in universities across the UK in Spring 2013. The Department of Health now recommends that students who have either never had the MMR vaccine or only had one dose of MMR get immunised. The vaccine is available free to all students from the Student Health Service.
  • Hepatitis B - Recommended if you are studying on a healthcare course. The course of immunisations can take up to six months, so it is advisable to start your course as soon as possible.
  • Influenza (flu) vaccine - Recommended for anyone with a chronic illness (such as chest, heart or kidney disease) and pregnant women.
  • Pneumococcal vaccine (pneumonia) - Recommended for people with respiratory problems.

It is helpful if you have your vaccines before you come to the UK, but, if this has not been possible, your GP should be able to help.

Prescriptions and fees for NHS services

Patients are usually required to contribute towards NHS costs with prescription fees for medications, dental fees, and opticians’ fees. You may be able to claim exemption if you have a low income. You will need to fill in HC1 form. If you are under 19 years old and in full time education no charges apply for NHS services.

There are no charges for seeing a GP for health problems.

Prescriptions are taken to a pharmacists or chemist in order to have the medicines dispensed. NHS Prescriptions currently cost £9.35 per item.

Getting the most from your pharmacy

A visit to the Doctor is not always necessary for minor health complaints. Find out how your local pharmacy may be able to help.

What the pharmacy can offer

The pharmacy (or chemist) is the place to go to have prescriptions made up. Pharmacists can also offer a range of services including giving advice on the treatment of minor health problems. This could save you a trip to your GP. You can use any pharmacy you wish. In country areas, the GP's surgery will dispense medicines to patients of the practice, although patients may take prescriptions to other pharmacies. It's a good idea to use one pharmacy regularly and to get to know the pharmacist by name.

The local health authority has a list of all pharmacies just type in your postcode.

Medicines on prescription

You can get NHS and private prescriptions made up at any pharmacy. GPs (general practitioners or family doctors) generally write NHS prescriptions, but they can write private ones. You have to pay for the medicine, but you do not pay NHS prescription charges - so it may be cheaper. Ask your GP or pharmacist about private prescriptions.

Over-the-counter medicines

Some medicines are available 'over-the-counter' (OTC), which means you can buy them without a prescription. The contents and action of the medicine will be the same as the prescribed medicine but it may be cheaper. Ask your GP if the medicine he or she is prescribing for you is available over the counter. Or ask your pharmacist when you take your prescription in.

Paying for medicines

A charge is made for each item on an NHS prescription currently £9.35, but some people don't have to pay the charge because of their age, income or medical condition. Patients on regular medication may apply to the health authority for a 'season ticket' (pre-payment certificate) for longer periods.

People who do not have to pay prescription charges include:

  • people aged 60 and over
  • people under age 16 and full-time students under age 19
  • most people on income support, family credit or a disability living allowance
  • pregnant women or those who have a baby under 12 months old
  • people suffering from certain medical conditions.

To find out if you qualify for free prescriptions, ask the pharmacist, your GP, health visitor or the health authority.

Asking for advice from the pharmacist

Pharmacists are experts in medicines, with a minimum of four years of training in their use. A certificate on display in the shop shows the pharmacist's name. The pharmacist may be able to give you advice on the use of medicines that are dispensed or sold, including how to take them and any side-effects. Ask the pharmacist if there are any medicines you should avoid, otherwise you might take a mixture of medicines that could be harmful when taken together.

Tell the pharmacist:

  • what the problem is and what your symptoms are (pain, vomiting, dizziness, etc.)
  • what medicines you are already taking
  • if you are allergic to anything (e.g. penicillin)
  • if you are pregnant or breast feeding your baby.
  • if the patient is a child, give the child's age.

Dealing with minor illnesses

Many minor illnesses will go away after a time, but there may be things you can do or medicines to take which will help you feel better. The pharmacist can advise you on how to recognise and treat minor illnesses. They may suggest medicines that you can buy over the counter.

This could save you a trip to the doctor, but the pharmacist should be able to tell you if you need to see your GP.

Pharmacists encourage people to consult them about minor illnesses and health worries. If you want to talk in confidence, ask if there is somewhere private where you can talk to the pharmacist.

Some pharmacists keep patient medication records, which list all of the medicines that they have dispensed for you. If you have any worries about who might see these records, you need to ask the pharmacist.

Services available from pharmacies

  • Repeat prescriptions
  • Deliveries to housebound people
  • Pregnancy testing
  • Deliveries of oxygen
  • Appliances and aids for disabled people
  • Incontinence and ostomy products
  • Health information such as advice on a balanced diet or how to stop smoking
  • Advice on what medicines to take away on holiday
  • Products such as Aromatherapy oils, herbal treatments and homeopathic medicines. These can be bought at many pharmacies. They are 'complementary therapies' - oils, ointments, drops or tablets that are used for many different kinds of illnesses. The pharmacist can give advice on how to use them.

Disposing of old medicines

It is inadvisable to keep old medicines at home. It is also unwise to use medicines prescribed for someone else. Pharmacists and dispensing GPs will safely dispose of any unwanted or out-of-date medicines for you free of charge.

Late-night opening

Dispensing services are available outside normal opening hours - at night, on Sundays and on public holidays. Find out which pharmacies offer these late-night services. For prescriptions, there may be a rota of pharmacies which are open all night. In an emergency, contact the police. Look in pharmacy windows for the late night and weekend rota. (This may also be published online, available through your GP or nearest hospital.) There may be a telephone number to ring to find out the rota.

The following pharmacies have out of hours opening services: