Staying Healthy in the UK

Living and studying in a new country is exciting but it can be scary if you get ill and don’t know how to get help, or are confused by the language.

When you get sick, we want you to feel better as quickly as possible. Find out about how to access the appropriate healthcare services below.

Emergency Healthcare

In a medical emergency you must phone 999 and request an ‘Ambulance’. An operative will ask you to describe the problem and will send help to your location.

In this instance, a medical emergency could mean that someone is:

  • Unconscious;
  • Wounded and bleeding heavily;
  • Unable to move the body;
  • Debilitating pain.

Accessing Healthcare

The UK has a free National Health Service which is funded by the UK Government and National Insurance. You can use the NHS for free if you:

  • are from an EU Country, or; 
  • are from a country with a health agreement with the UK. Find out if this applies to you here, or;
  • are studying a full-time course which is less than six months in duration, with funding from the UK Government 
  • have paid the immigration health surcharge for your current period of immigration permission.

If you are studying a full time course which is at least six months long you, your spouse or civil partner and any children (under the age of 16) should be entitled to free NHS hospital treatment (all family members must live in the UK for this to apply).

You should consider private medical insurance for your stay if you do not satisfy any of the above criteria, and you are:

  • studying a full-time course which is less than six months in duration, 
  • without funding from the UK Government, and
  • you have not paid the immigration surcharge.

If you are receiving hospital treatment you will need to present the appropriate documentation to prove that you are eligible for free treatment. Depending on your circumstances, this may include:

  • Appropriate ID;
  • Proof of Nationality;
  • Documentation from your University/College to show that you are/will be/have been attending a course;
  • Proof of your medical insurance;
  • Proof that you have paid the immigration health surcharge.

Seeking non-emergency medical help

There are different types of healthcare provision that you can seek in the UK.

Once you have arrived in the UK, it is important that you register with a GP near to where you are living. Find out how to do this, on our Medical and Dental Care at University webpage. If you are feeling unwell and in need of medical attention, you should contact your GP for an appointment. They may ask you to briefly explain the issue you are experiencing to ensure that you are seen to in an appropriate time. If you are experiencing discomfort that must be addressed within the next 24 hours, you should try to call the GP as they open and state that you need an emergency appointment.

Alternatively, if you have experienced an accident and require urgent medical attention, then you may need to visit the Accident and Emergency Unit (A&E) at the hospital most local to you. In these circumstances, you can:

  • Travel to the nearest A&E Unit independently.
  • Call NHS Direct on 111 and request an ambulance.
  • If you are not in a catchment area for NHS Direct, call NHS Direct Wales on 0845 46 47.

Thirdly, if you are experiencing discomfort, and/or unusual symptoms, you may feel that you do not need to seek medical help from a doctor immediately. If this is the case, you could visit a local pharmacist and request a consultation. Pharmacists should be able to advise whether a symptom requires the attention of a doctor, and may be able to prescribe some medicine over the counter.

For over-the-counter medicine, you can go to any pharmacist in your locality. You will be required to pay for over-the-counter medication.

If you are collecting a prescription issued to you by your GP, you should agree with your GP which pharmacist you will be collecting the medication from. Usually, prescribed medication is free under the NHS.

If you are not sure what action to take, we advise you to take a look at the NHS symptom tracker.

Seeking medical help during Covid-19

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Doctors surgeries have stopped drop-in appointment booking and have requested that all patients call the surgery to book an appointment. Subject to the issue, a doctor may contact you via telephone to discuss the matter further. If you require a face-to-face appointment, your Doctor may be able to arrange this following an initial consultation.

We understand that A&E departments are still open for those who are experiencing an accident or emergency that requires urgent medical assistance. However, you may not be permitted a visitor or friend to accompany you during this time.

Pharmacies are open as usual, but you must follow government rules and guidance when you arrive: 

  • Stand 2m apart from the nearest person;
  • Wear a mask or face covering while you are inside.

General Health

Most universities advise students to have an MMR vaccination against measles and mumps, and also a Meningitis C vaccination. If you haven’t had these vaccinations when you arrive and you would like them, you should contact your GP. Further information is available on our Immunisation & Vaccines page.

For country-specific vaccinations, contact the British Embassy in your country for further advice.
We appreciate that international students often manage symptoms of homesickness whilst adapting to life in the UK. If this applies to you, please know that you are not alone. Have a look at our Homesickness webpage for more information and tips on how to manage these feelings.

Sexual Health and Contraception

Contraception services in the UK are free and confidential. If you would like to speak to a professional about your sexual health or contraception, you can contact:

  • Your GP;
  • A Sexual Health Clinic;
  • A walk-in clinic with a family planning clinic;
  • Some Genitourinary Medicine (GUM) Clinics.

You can buy most barrier method contraception from a pharmacy. The Students’ Union also has free condom dispensers based on the second and third floors. For access to other contraceptives, or for more information you can contact the services listed above.

If you need emergency contraception, or the morning after pill, you can visit a local pharmacy. A pharmacist may ask you a couple of questions before they sell you this pill, to ensure it is the most appropriate course of action. If you do not have a prescription you will need to pay for this medication.

Useful Contacts

  • Emergency Services – 999
  • NHS Direct – 111
  • NHS Direct Wales - 0845 46 47
  • Cardiff Royal Infirmary - 029 2033 5355
  • Emergency Dental Helpline – 02920 444500
  • Counselling and Wellbeing – 029 2251 8888
  • Disability and Dyslexia - 029 2251 8888

Contact Student Advice
+44 (0)2920 781410