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Accessing Healthcare in the UK

Student Journey / Student Information / New Students / International Pre-Arrival Guide / Accessing Healthcare in the UK
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Accessing Healthcare in the UK

As an overseas national,  you may be unsure on what you need to do to access healthcare during your studies. This section provides advice on looking after yourself in the UK and how to access healthcare services to obtain medical advice and treatment via the UK's National Health Service (NHS).

When you applied for your student route visa, you will have paid the immigration health surcharge. This would also have been required for any dependents applying to come with you to the UK, and provides access to healthcare during your studies, though some services may still accrue a cost. 

When you arrive in the UK, you may be asked for evidence of your immigration status when accessing healthcare. You can do so by presenting your vignette, BRP, visa decision letter or digital share code. 

The UK Government have produced a guide for migrants on what you are entitled to, and how to go about registering yourself with the various services within the NHS. You can also check out the useful video below detailing how to access medical care in the UK: 

Registering with a General Practioner (GP)

It is vital that you register with a GP practice as soon as you arrive in the UK. A GP is a doctor who manages your general medical needs and for most issues a GP practice is usually the first place you will go. You will need to make sure that you register with a GP close to where you will be living. 

Once you have registered with a practice you will be invited for a new patient health check where a member of the practice team will undertake a basic health assessment and ask key information about your medical history. If you require any appointments with a nurse or GP (or someone from the wider practice team) you can make these via telephone or an online portal once you have registered. The receptionist may ask you some brief questions on your condition to ensure they book an appointment with the right healthcare professional. 

At your appointment the GP or nurse will meet with you and discuss your clinical needs and determine a treatment plan. This may involve a referral to another part of the NHS.

Additional Care and important numbers

If you require more specific treatment, it is likely you will be referred to hospital to see a specialist consultant. You will usually be given an appointment, and depending on your circumstances, be treated as an out-patient, where you will leave after your appointment. If your condition or treatment requires further attention, you may be classified as an in-patient, which would involve staying overnight (or longer). 

If you need urgent medical assistance when you are in the UK, you should call 999. You will be connected to the emergency services who may ask you questions on your condition, or on who you are calling on behalf of. Depending on your circumstances, they may send an ambulance to transport you to hospital, or ask you to travel there yourself, only if you are able to do so safely. You should only call 999 in the event of a serious illness, injury, or urgent need for medical care. If you do not require urgent assistance and instead need general medical advice, you can call 111 

For more information on accessing healthcare in the UK, visit our Wellbeing Team’s health webpages. 

Dental Care

Dental care in the UK is delivered by Dental Practices. We have a list of practices in Sunderland here 

You may find that many dental services are full and can take on no further patients.  Try to make sure that whichever dental practice you register with isn’t too far from where you are living.

It is recommended that you receive a dental check-up once a year in the UK. Unless you are specifically exempt, it is likely that you will be charged for dental treatment in the same way that other NHS patients in the UK would.  

Taking care of yourself

It is important to take steps to care for yourself, particularly when you make the transition to a new country and are having to adapt to a lot of change. It can be easy to forget to do some of the basics! 

Exercising is a great way to stay active and make friends, both of which will contribute to your physical and mental wellbeing. We have an on-campus gym, in addition to a wide variety of activities and sports to engage in during your studies. Find out more here. 

Eating healthy foods will also ensure you have sufficient energy to go about your day, which as a student, may include a lot! The NHS has some useful information on eating well – this may be particularly helpful if you do not have much knowledge of British cuisine, so make a note of food types and ingredients before you go food shopping. 

We aren’t very productive without sleep, so make sure you get plenty before busy days of studying, socialising, and taking part in all the activities available to University of Sunderland students. Top tips to help good sleep include developing a good sleep routine, try and do a relaxing activity before you go to bed, such as reading a book and don’t drink too much caffeine or alcohol before bed.  

The weather in the UK may be cooler than what you’re used to. It can be cold throughout the winter months (November to February), which is when viruses such as the common cold and flu tend to increase in frequency. Maintain a supply of basic medicines to help with cold and flu symptoms, and ensure you have appropriate clothes for the weather. Warm jumpers and jackets are available in most clothes shops in Sunderland, many of which provide affordable options – but shop around! 

Supporting your Mental Health

Having good mental health makes life easier. It helps us to remain calm and comfort ourselves when we're upset, to cope with the losses, changes, fears and uncertainties in life, to make and keep good relationships with other people and to learn. Having good mental health does not mean feeling good all of the time but in the UK, we consider Mental Health as important as our physical health. 

We recognise that some international students may need support if they experience changes in their mental health during their time at university or notice changes in the mental health of a friend. Arriving in a new country can take some time to adjust so it is important to remember that there is support in place to help you. You can find more information about support services by going HERE

We encourage you to look at healthy habits to support your mental health while at university and this includes connection with others. 

We also have 24/7 help available, online tools, and a self-referral form to our services:

  • You can email the team at wellbeing@sunderland.ac.uk or call us at 0191 515 2933.
  • If you feel you need to refer yourself to our serviceyou can fill out our referral form. Our service is entirely free and confidential.  Once your form is received, staff will arrange a meeting and complete a plan of support with you, to ensure you are supported throughout your university journey.  

We also encourage you before coming to the University of Sunderland to make us aware of any disabilities you might have, our disability team will look to support you throughout your university experience. You can find information about support HERE

The University of Sunderland Policies include a range of equality and diversity documents that have been developed in accordance with the principles and objectives of legislation such as the Disability Discrimination Act and the Disability Equality Duty. This includes the University's Disability Equality Scheme and Disability Action Plan and is relevant to all students and our wider work across the university. 

If you require support outside of office hours while at university, there is support available from our Overnight Team. Support workers offer support to all students from 6.30pm-6.30am, 7 nights a week by calling: 0191 515 2451. All calls are free and confidential. More information about the service can be found HERE.

Records to bring from your home country

It is useful to bring with you any medical and vaccination records from your home country in order to share with your GP, once you have registered. Providing these records will assist your UK GP with your medical care. We also advise you to bring any prescribed medication from home, enough to last around 2 months, until you have registered with a GP.


If you’d like to discuss a minor health problem (e.g., cold or flu) you can get free, confidential advice at a pharmacy. Many pharmacies are open late and at weekends too, which can be very useful if you need advice when your General Practitioner (Doctor) is closed.

Pharmacists dispense both prescription and non-prescription medicines. They can give you advice about how to use your medicines and highlight any possible side effects. If you have a long-term health condition, your pharmacist can also help you to manage your medicines and your condition, and if needed they can collect routine prescriptions from your GP too. 

TB screening

Screening for tuberculosis will be offered to you by your doctor once you have registered. If not, please speak to them about this. Screening checks whether you have active TB. Screening is free of charge and your doctor will arrange this for you. If you need to be treated for TB, this is also free of charge. TB screening means treatment can be given promptly where required and any risk of TB being passed on to other people will be lessened.