The ultimate guide to cheap healthcare and dentistry
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?
It 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 on this page?
What’s the difference between NHS and Private?
One 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?
If only the answer to this was everything. The main exemptions you’ll come across are these pesky lot:
- Dental treatment
- 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
The 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.
Do you need to register?
While 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.
What about international students?
Good 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.