In the UK health system is ‘free’ to its citizens but that does not mean it is free for everyone! For travelers going to the UK, it is recommended that you arrive with travel insurance that includes health insurance. In many cases your study and/or internship program may provide you with health insurance but don’t take this granted and make sure you are covered!
GETTING MEDICINE ABROAD
To begin, the UK does not necessarily stock the same over-the-counter medicines that are available at home. For example some medicines available over the counter in the US are not available here. Therefore, it would be a good idea to bring your “essential” medications from home as you will most likely not find the equivalent or a medicine of equal strength abroad. If you are in the UK during the summer, and you suffer from seasonal allergies, it is recommended that you bring your own allergy medication from the US. Check out our essential packing list for more information or the dos and don’t of packing.
FEELING ILL? WHERE DO YOU START
If you have any health concerns, usually the first place you should go is the chemist. The British refer to pharmacies as ‘chemists’ and chemists are fully trained to provide you with over the counter solutions. You simply tell them you symptoms and they will suggest an appropriate medicine. You will be able to find one more or less on every street corner, just as in the US. The most common ones are Boots and Superdrug – at these chemists you can purchase any OTC medication, bandages, toiletries, feminine products and much more.
GOING TO THE DOCTOR
However, when a more serious circumstance occurs, there are plenty of doctors and hospitals around to help! Normally during your orientation there is information on how to register with your GP (General Practitioner) and this information can also usually be found at your housing. Don’t wait until you are ill to register! To find a GP (General Practitioner/Family Doctor) nearest to you, click here!
Depending on your circumstances and the amount of time you are spending in the UK you may not be eligible to register. If this is case you will need to go to a private walk in clinic – literally type this into google and it will find you the nearest one. Typically appointments at private walk in clinics cost between 50 and 80 GBP.
EMERGENCY? GO TO A&E (ACCIDENT AND EMERGENCY)
An emergency room in the UK is referred to as A&E and once you arrive in the UK you should make a note of where which hospital nearest you has an A&E department. Once you arrive at the hospital, you register yourself, fill out a questionnaire and wait your turn. The nurses will then determine how serious your situation is and guide you on how you should proceed. The whole process is typically easy to manouvre and you will not be refused medical care even if you are a foreign national. However, if you have an extended stay in the hospital (eg once you are admitted and stay overnight) you would be expected to pay – which is another reason why you really should have travel insurance.
NOT SURE IF IT’S AN EMERGENCY – DIAL NHS 111
One of the best services the NHS offers is NHS 111 – Simply dial 111 if you have urgent medical concerns but you are not sure what to do next or where to go to get the medical attention you need.
The NHS 111 service is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by a team of fully trained advisers. They will ask questions to assess your symptoms and, depending on the situation, will then:
- give you self-care advice
- connect you to a nurse, emergency dentist or GP
- book you a face-to-face appointment
- send an ambulance directly, if necessary
- direct you to the local service that can help you best with your concern
Happy and SAFE travels!