The ultimate guide to cheap healthcare and dentistry

Author photo

By in Health & Relationships. Updated January 2015.

We all know that we’re pretty darn lucky to have the NHS in this country – heck, we even put it in the Olympics. But do you know how to use it?
thenhsIt sounds pretty stupid, but sadly there’s a lot more to free healthcare than just turning up and demanding someone sorts your medical complaint out.

Also, while most of our healthcare and dentistry in the UK is free, there are some things you’ll have to shell out for. Yeah, you actually have to pay.

However, the news isn’t all bad, most services are free and there are many other concessions to people in certain groups, you just need to learn how to negotiate the minefield. 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 it goes a bit pear-shaped is the difference between private and NHS healthcare.

The important thing to know is that the cheapest form of healthcare – and very often free – is the National Health Service. The NHS is funded publicly through paying taxes, so it’s there for everyone to use.

Private healthcare might allow you to cut down on waiting times, but you will be paying a massive premium and to put it bluntly, it’s not something that students – or most working people for that matter – can afford.

To put it into context, a check up at your dentist will cost £18.50 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 more than £50, 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?

freehugsIf only the answer to this was everything. The main exemptions you’ll come across are these pesky lot:

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

Basically, it’s really pants news if your eyesight isn’t the greatest. Don’t worry though, there are lots of exemptions to paying for stuff though, which we’ll get on to pronto.

In essence though, anything that’s not on that list shouldn’t cost you any money.  So a trip to A&E, a visit to the doctor’s surgery or an STI test, for example, won’t cost you any dollar.

This said, there are some smaller, exclusions we haven’t mentioned as they apply to specific courses of treatment. In these cases you’ll always be advised before you end up paying – your doctor should talk you through all treatment options available.

What exemptions can you apply for?

First up, we need to make it super clear that there is no automatic exemption for students. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t fit into another category of people who can get things cheaply.

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. Also, everyone under 25 in Wales gets free dental examinations. Woohoo.
  • Those on low incomes: Those who don’t earn a very high income can apply for full or partial help with any costs. This includes students, so we’ll go through the process below.
  • Pregnant women: If you’re pregnant, or have recently had a child, then you will 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 worked out on your income – not your parents as long as you don’t live with them.

If you’re earning less than £16,000 a year, then you can get full help with your travel, prescriptions, dental and opticians bills on the NHS.

You’ll have to fill in a form called HS2 – it’s quite lengthy but will be worth it for the certificate. Bear in mind that any money from student loans, your parents and a part-time job all count, so be honest.

If you earn slightly more than £16,000 you can apply using a HS3 form instead – this won’t give you full help, but it will help to cut down on costs.

Keep in mind that the certificate lasts for a year, so you have to renew is as long as your course goes on for.

Apply for HS2 Certificate

Do you need to register?

confusedWhile emergency services don’t require you to register – you just show up and they’ll try and fix the problem – 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 – don’t leave it until you feel pants, as they’ll be added complications and you might not get seen straight away.

You’ll need to find a GP in the local area, or your university may have its own health centre. If you’re unsure, your uni should have a list.

To register for a new GP you will need to take along your NHS medical card as well as filling in a GMS1 form. If you do not have your NHS medical card, then you will need to ask for your NHS number from your current GP and take it into the new practice.

After this you will just need to set up an initial meeting or check up with your GP to introduce yourself.

What about international students?

internationalstudentGood news! If you’re an international student 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.

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.

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

Leave a comment

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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?


  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. Chrissy

    15. Feb, 2015

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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.


  11. 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).


Leave a comment without Facebook