Entitlement to healthcare


Healthcare in the United Kingdom is provided through the National Health Service (NHS).

Free Healthcare

Primary healthcare in Scotland is free for everyone and there are no fees.  This includes accident and emergency services, family planning services, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections and diagnosis and treatment of certain infectious diseases.

Hospital Fee Exemptions

For other hospital treatments, there are fees for 'overseas visitors'. You are an 'overseas visitor' if you have a time limit on your immigration permission for the UK. You would normally be exempt from paying these fees if:

  • You paid the immigration health surcharge for your current period of immigration permission.
  • You applied for your current period of immigration permission before the immigration health surcharge was introduced on 6 April 2015. You will only be protected in this way if the immigration application you made was one where the immigration health surcharge would have been relevant if it had been made on or after 6 April 2015.
  • You are a national of Australia or New Zealand and have immigration permission to be in the UK.
  • You are a British Overseas Territory citizen who is resident in the Falkland Islands.
  • You have been granted or have made an application for asylum, humanitarian protection, temporary protection, or you are a child who is looked after by a local authority.
  • You are a member of the UK's regular or reserve armed forces (or in some cases their spouse, civil partner or child).
  • You are a baby aged 3 months or less, you were born in the UK to a parent who is exempt from hospital fees because the parent fits into group 1 or 2 above, and you (the baby) have not left the UK since birth.

Short-Course of Study (less than 6 months)

If your course is less than six months then you would not have been asked to pay the immigration health surcharge and are therefore not exempt from hospital fees. As a result you might wish to consider taking private health insurance, as medical treatment in the UK can be very expensive.

Registering with a GP

In the UK you need to register with a GP (General Practitioner) every time you move to a new area.  Once you have found your accommodation you should look for GPs in your area and register with one of them. You shouldn't wait to be ill or require treatment to register. Registering is simple, you only need to visit the local surgery you would like to register with and they will normally ask you to complete a form as well as provide photographic ID (such as your passport), and evidence of your address.

If you are living within the City of Edinburgh boundary, you can register with the University Health Service on campus or with a local GP (proof of study required).  If you are based at the Scottish Borders or Orkney Campus should register with one of the local general practices. Staff at the Campus will be on hand to advise you on this during your enrolment.  If you have any difficulty finding a local GP then you can search based on your UK postcode.  For more information, see the GPs/Family doctors page on the NHS Lothian website.

Please note if you have family with you, both you and your family members should register with the same GP in the area where you are living.

If you are from the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland and you need care, you may be asked to show:

  • your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
  • a letter from the university which confirms that you have a place on a full-time course. The letter should say when your course starts and how long it lasts for.
Dentist and opticians

The University Health Centre on the Edinburgh Campus has an NHS dental practice with one full-time dentist.  There are no dental practices at the Scottish Borders or Orkney Campuses. Under the NHS, all adult patients (over 18 years or full-time students over 19) must pay 80% of the cost of their dental treatment.

To find contact details of an NHS dentist in your area, please contact the NHS Lothian board on 0131 537 8424. Alternatively, search for a dentist in your area.  For more information about dental services, please visit the NHS Lothian website.

In Scotland the NHS pay for your eye test but rarely contribute towards the cost of glasses or contact lenses. Search for an optician in your area.


Since 1 April 2011, prescriptions are currently free of charge in Scotland and £8.05 in England.   Prescriptions issued by the doctor must be taken to a chemist (pharmacist) for dispensing. Search for a pharmacist in your area. However, at the Edinburgh Campus, you can hand in your prescription at the University Health Centre and the medicine will normally be available for collection a few hours later.

Certain medicines for self-administration (e.g. paracetamol, cough syrup) may be bought at local chemists or supermarkets without prescriptions.

If you have any pre-existing medical conditions you can also contact the University Health Service before travelling to the UK for advice on treatment options and support available in the UK, and to check whether it would be worth purchasing a medical insurance policy. For more information, contact the University Health Service.

Accident and Emergency (A&E)

In the UK the emergency services for ambulance, fire and police services can be contacted by dialing 999. Emergency medical help and advice is available 24 hours a day.

If you are ill outside of normal surgery hours and cannot wait until they re-open, you can contact NHS 24 by dialling 111.  They are an online and telephone based service that can answer your questions and offer health care advice.  If you are living on-campus you should contact the Duty Warden or the Control Janitor in the case of emergencies outside of normal surgery hours.

If you are living outside the Campus you should contact your registered doctor first, or if the condition is serious call for an ambulance or go directly to the nearest hospital’s A&E Department.

For further information about A&E in Edinburgh, please visit the NHS Lothian website.  For further information about healthcare, contact the University Health Service.

Private health insurance

If you are studying on a short term course, you may decide to take out private health insurance during your stay in the UK. There are many companies who provide a range of private services. Heriot-Watt is unable to make recommendations about the best private health insurance provider for your needs.