The ultimate guide to cheap healthcare and dentistry

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By in Health & Relationships. Updated .

We all know how lucky we are to have the NHS in this country – heck, we even put it in the Olympics! But do you really know how to use our NHS?
thenhsThe National Health Service is something the UK is extremely proud of – essentially, any UK citizen is entitled to free healthcare, and will be looked after no matter what their financial situation is.

However, while most of our healthcare services and dentistry in the UK is free, there are a few things you still have to shell out for. Weirdly, there's also quite a few differences in charges between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland worth being aware of.

There are also concessions available to people within certain brackets – you just need to learn how to negotiate the minefield! And that's what we're here for.

What's the difference between NHS and Private?

choicesOne of the first things you need to know when you're looking to sort out who's going to fix you up when things go a bit pear-shaped is the difference between private and NHS healthcare.

The important thing to know is that the cheapest form of healthcare is always going to be the National Health Service – the NHS is funded publicly through taxes, and is there for everyone to use.

Private healthcare might give you the opportunity to cut down on waiting times, but unfortunately it's a luxury that most people (particularly students!) can't afford.

To put it into context, a check up at your dentist will cost £19.70 on the NHS and includes X-rays, scaling and polishing and plans for further treatment if needed.

The same examination at a private dentist could cost anything between £25-70, with additional costs for any X-rays or scaling.

So, before you sign up for any doctor's surgeries or dentists make sure you check that you're signing on as an NHS patient.

Don't worry about the quality of your care, either – the NHS is offers some of the best medical treatment in the world!

What is and isn't free?

freehugsIn essence, the only things you should be paying for with the NHS are the following:

  • Dental treatment
  • Prescriptions
  • Sight tests
  • Glasses or contact lenses
  • Wigs or fabric supports

So a trip to accident and emergency, a visit to the doctor's surgery or even an STI test, won't cost you a thing.

That said, there are some small exceptions we haven't mentioned as they apply to specific courses of treatment. In these cases, you'll always be advised before you go ahead with any treatment that you'll have to pay for out your own pocket – your doctor will talk you through the options available to you.

Differences between charges in UK countries

healthcare in the UKCredit: Anna & Michal – FlickrThere are a few notable differences between how NHS charges work in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

They are as follows:

  • Dental check-ups are free in Scotland, and to the under-25s in Wales
  • Whilst you pay a basic capped fee of £8.40 for prescriptions in England, prescription fees are abolished in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • All non-EU international students in Scotland get full access to the NHS
  • Non-EU students in England and Wales get access to NHS if they're studying there for six months or more.

What exemptions can you apply for?

Girl giving thumbs upFirst up, we need to make it super clear that unfortunately there's no automatic exemption for students. However, that doesn't mean you don't fit into another category where you can have your general healthcare subsidised by the government.

The main categories of people who qualify for help with their healthcare are:

  • Young people: If you're under 18 and in full-time education, you're exempt from almost all charges, and if you're 19 and in full-time education you're exempt from many.
  • Those on low incomes: Those who fall within a low income bracket can apply for full or partial help with any costs. This often includes students (more on this in the following section)
  • Pregnant women: If you're pregnant, or have recently had baby within the last 12 months, you'll benefit from free prescriptions and dental care.
  • Those with certain medical conditions: This goes without saying really. You can find full details on the NHS Choices website.

Applying for the NHS Low Income Scheme

paperworkThe NHS low income scheme can be a life saver for 90% of students, as it's judged based on your income, not your parents – as long as you don't live with them, that is.

If you're earning nothing or hardly anything (this includes savings, student maintenance loans, investments and property), then you can get help with your prescriptions, dental and opticians bills on the NHS.

You'll have to fill in a form called HC2 – it's quite lengthy but will be worth it for the certificate. Bear in mind that any money from student loans (that's maintenance loans, not your tuition fee loans which go directly to your university), your parents and any part-time work all count, so be honest here!

If you aren't eligible for the HC2 benefit you can still get an HC3 discount – this will allow you to receive partial support so will help cut down costs.

Your certificate will last anything between 6 months and 5 years, depending on your circumstances. You'll be informed at the time of application how long yours will last for, so take note and remember to renew it, as you're not likely to be reminded!

Apply for HC2 Certificate

Do you need to register with the NHS?

confusedWhile emergency services don't require you to register – you can show up at A&E and they'll attend to you without previous registration necessary – you will need to register with a GP, dentist and optician if you plan on using their services.

Even if you don't anticipate using any of these services during your time at university, you should always register just in case. Don't put off registering with a GP until you're really sick and have to go through the registration waiting list before you can get seen.

If this is the situation you're currently in you can go to a drop-in GP surgery, but note that this should be considered a last resort as waiting times are extremely long.

You'll need to find a GP in your local area, or your university may have its own health centre – just ask at student services.

To register for a new GP you'll need to take along your NHS medical card as well as filling in a GMS1 form. If you don't have an NHS medical card, you'll need to ask your current GP for your NHS number and take it into the new practice.

After this, you'll just need to set up an initial health check up with your GP which works as a sort of introduction.

Do international students get free healthcare?

internationalstudentGood news! If you're an EU/EEA student studying in the UK, you're entitled to the same healthcare service as any UK citizen.

If you're an international student from a non-EU country who is studying a full-time course that lasts at least six months, then you get the same access to the NHS as the rest of the UK (if you're studying in Scotland you get access no matter how long you're studying in the country for).

That means it's free, apart from the exemptions which we've listed above, and you can also apply for support in the same way that UK citizens can.

We reckon that just about covers it all. What do you think? Have you had any problems getting healthcare at university? Let us know.

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28 Responses to “The ultimate guide to cheap healthcare and dentistry”

  1. Cath

    05. Apr, 2017

    My husband and I both work, I’m on minimum wage but our combined incomes are just over threshold for help – I can’t afford to go to the dentist myself and now my son needs to go – he’s 19 and is starting uni in September, he doesn’t have an income at the minute but I’m presuming that he is entitled to no help whatsoever as he is over 19 and they will base it on household income – even when he starts uni and moves out he won’t be entitled to help – are those correct assumptions?

  2. Michelle

    19. Nov, 2016

    Hi, my daughter is 19 and in full time ed in college. We live in Wales. She has no income other than £30/wk EMA from college. I do not work anymore due to my disability, I am also divorced and she does not see her dad. What help can she get for dentist as they want 3 month check ups and they charge loads.

  3. carol

    26. Oct, 2016

    my daughter is a 19 year old full time student, living away from home. She had a routine check up in August and was told if she paid for the check up she could claim it back once she had completed the HC1 form that they gave her. She has received her HC2 which is valid from september but the letter with it says she is not entitled to a refund, the reason stated is “when you paid your health costs, the amount you were assessed to pay was more than the amount you were charged” Am I right in thinking that you cannot get your charges back dated?

  4. Rachel

    11. Jul, 2016

    When you say that student loans will be taken into consideration for low-income form, does the £9,000 tuition loan count towards that? The loan that goes directly to the University?

    • Savings

      07. Aug, 2016

      Are savings included in the equation or is it income ? Are uni living costs ie rent and food taken into consideration and how long does it usually take to get a judgement? Anyone know?

    • Jake Butler

      12. Jul, 2016

      Hi Rachel, as far as I’m aware, the tuition fee loan is not taken into account.

  5. Kirstie

    10. Jun, 2016

    My son needs a form filling in by GP which has been requested by the uni he is hoping to attend. As a family we are exempt from paying for prescriptions etc so will we need to pay for this to be done

  6. Lynn

    21. Apr, 2016

    If I have HC2, do I get to pay less on cervical cancer vaccine or free?

    • Jake Butler

      10. May, 2016

      Please check with your doctor.

  7. Colin Bullen

    15. Feb, 2016

    I think your site may be giving out misleading advice here. Are you sure that the figure of £16,000 which you give as an income cut off for HC2 isn’t the capital limit of the same figure which applies unless you’re in residential care? I’ve looked everywhere and can’t find a single other site which gives your figure, and this would explain the confusion in the comments on here. I hope I’m wrong as i’m in the process of applying myself, but please check your info!

  8. Lee

    13. Jan, 2016

    Hi, my son in full time studying in uni, recently he need filling his tooth, he unable to find dentist which accept nhs, so he end up going private and charged £200 that a lot of money for a student, so is he entile to claim the money back?

    • Jake Butler

      14. Jan, 2016

      Unfortunately not Lee.

  9. Emma

    01. Nov, 2015

    My earning is about £12000, far less than £16000 and I am living at London as a student. Why I still receive the HC3 other than HC2? So confused.

    • Jake Butler

      09. Nov, 2015

      Hi Emma, have you filled out the HS2 form and sent it off?

  10. Amy Brayshaw

    31. Aug, 2015

    I am returning to university to study a postgrad. I can’t find my H2 form or information. I live away from my parents and currently have no part time job. I wanted to know how to apply again for the H2 form.

    When in my undergraduate course I wasn’t charged for filling work. I’m hoping to return to the practice, where students are mostly accepted, but I have always had a private dentist due to not being able to find an nhs dentist. I am in need of root canal in the future which the private dentist suggested. Is there any way I could save money by going to the Nhs?


  11. Rick

    11. Jun, 2015

    Currently I am self employed and need quite a substantial amount of dentistry work done,
    Is there a certain point at which planned/emergency treatment is free within the nhs? By way of dentistry work becomes essential but too much is needing done for it to be affordable?

    • Jake Butler

      16. Jun, 2015

      Unfortunately getting free dentistry on the NHS is becoming increasingly difficult.

  12. Sarish Khan

    23. May, 2015

    When you say money from student loans that is not including the £9000 for tuition fees, is it?!?

    • Jake Butler

      25. May, 2015

      No just your maintenance loan amount.

  13. Chrissy

    15. Feb, 2015

    Does anyone have a e copy of the HC2 application please to send to me. Thans

  14. Julie

    02. Feb, 2015

    Hi. My son is 19 in full time education and living at home , we revive child benifits for him & tax credits , he’s no job
    Is he entitled to free dentist treatment and if so how do I go about it , he has received a bill from the dentist for £68 which I’m querying but they say when you turn 19 you pay thanks

    • Jake Butler

      03. Feb, 2015

      Unfortunately dental charges seem to be something that you can’t really avoid once you are over 18 (whether you are in education or not).

      All I could suggest is applying to the low income scheme ( and then seeing of they offer any dentist discounts.

      It is likely that you will have to cover the £68 fee.

  15. Brian W

    30. Dec, 2014

    Do you know if the full HC2 certificate covers the optional flu vaccination? NHS web sites only say that it is usually only provided free of charge to children, healthcare workers and over 65’s but my wife is having a baby v soon and I want to get vaccinated to avoid falling ill and being unable to provide or look after my family

    • Jake Butler

      04. Jan, 2015

      Hi Brian, I do not think the NHS offer the flu vaccine to those outside of the risk demographics.

  16. brenda

    05. Oct, 2012

    I am International student studying at University. Am I entitled for HC2 form ? I have never applied for any loan. I am not doing any job.

    • Jake Butler

      09. Oct, 2012

      Hi Brenda,

      I cannot be sure on this. I would assume that you would have to be a UK citizen but it may be best to check with your university student services.


  17. Di

    02. Oct, 2012

    I recently applied for HC2 form… Im a student studying at university. After they analysed my application they said to me that I am only entitled to HC3 certificate they say because I am getting student loan.. How does that work that some students getting student loan are entitled to HC2 and others are not.
    My only income is from student finance loan

    • Jake Butler

      03. Oct, 2012

      Hi Di,
      Unfortunately, your student loan classed as income and you may only be eligible for an HC3 certificate which will get you a discount (although smaller).


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