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How to get cheap healthcare and dentistry

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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