Do university students pay for prescriptions? (UK HEALTHCARE COSTS EXPLAINED)

Do university students pay for prescriptions? (UK HEALTHCARE COSTS EXPLAINED)

This article explains which health services students pay for and which ones they get for free. It covers doctors, emergency treatment, prescriptions, dentists, eye tests, and opticians. And we’ll show you how students can get help with healthcare costs and even access some services and treatments for free.

Do students get free dental care in the UK?

There’s no simple answer to whether uni students pay for dentist treatments, as it depends on a few factors. First, you need to know that there are two types of dental services:

  • Private practices
  • NHS dental services

You can’t get free dental treatment from a private practice, no matter your circumstances. But students can get free dental care from NHS dentists if they meet certain conditions.

Uni students get free dental care while they’re still 18. Once you turn 19, you lose this eligibility and need to apply for a HC2 certificate if you want to remain exempt from medical costs, including dental fees.

See the section on student HC1 forms further down this page to learn more about applying for your HC2 certificate. This is the closest thing you can get to a student discount at the dentist.

At the risk of stating the obvious, you need to register as an NHS patient with a specific dental practice before you can make an appointment and get any dental work done.

While at university, it’s worth registering with a dentist in the town or city where you’re studying. This might sound like a hassle, but it’s less painful than having to endure an 8-hour round trip by train while you have a toothache. You can find an NHS dentist near you here.

Pro-tip: NHS dentists often have waiting lists, and it can take a while before they put you on their books, so don’t wait until you have a problem with your teeth to register yourself. Get the ball rolling as soon as you start uni so everything is in place by the time you need it.

Do students pay for prescriptions?

The rules for whether university students get free NHS prescriptions are similar to those for free dental treatment. University students get free NHS prescriptions automatically while they’re still 18. Once you turn 19, you’ll need an HC2 certificate to qualify for free medication. University students have to pay for NHS prescriptions if they are 19 or over and don’t have a valid HC2 certificate. 

Do university students get free eye tests?

University students can get free eye tests while they’re 18. To qualify for a free eye test, university students need an HC2 certificate once they turn 19.

Note: not all high-street eye tests are NHS-affiliated. So, if you go to the wrong optician, you may still have to pay for your eye test, even with an HC2 certificate. Don’t assume your optician will give you a free eye test just because you’re a uni student with an HC2 certificate. Always check before booking a test.

If you want to play it safe, students can get free eye tests at Specsavers if they have an HC2 certificate. The opticians has branches all over the UK and even has a handy free eye test eligibility checker on their website.

If you can’t get a free eye test, expect to pay £20-25 for one.

Pro tip: once you’ve had an eye test, ask for a copy of your results. Some opticians don’t give you them automatically, as they don’t want you to take your prescription away and buy your glasses from a different company. 

But you are entitled to your prescription details, and having them gives you maximum flexibility and control over when and where you buy your glasses. So remember to ask for a copy of your prescription before you leave the opticians once you’ve had your eye test.

Can university students get free glasses or contact lenses?

Students don’t get free glasses or contact lenses, but there are various ways you can get them at a reduced cost.

If you have a valid HC2 certificate, you can get NHS optical vouchers that contribute towards the cost of your glasses or lenses. The value of the vouchers you can claim depends on the type of glasses or lenses you are prescribed. Once you’ve had an eye test and got your prescription, your opticians can advise you on what voucher support you are entitled to on different products. 

Even if you don’t have an HC2 certificate, many high street opticians still offer student discounts on glasses and contact lenses. At the time of writing (November 2022), Vision Express offer a 20% student discount, Specsavers offer a 25% student discount, and online merchants Glasses Direct offer a whopping 50% student discount. It’s always worth shopping around to see what deals are available before buying anything.

What is a student hc1 form?

An HC1 form is an application form for the NHS HC2 certificate that exempts you from the medical costs discussed above. The HC1 is not a student-specific form. It’s for people on a low income (below £16,000 a year), and most students qualify for it.

To get your HC2 exemption certificate, you must either download a HC1 application form or request for one to be posted to you. Then you must complete it and post it back to the NHS.

HC1 applications are means-tested, so you aren’t guaranteed to automatically receive a certificate just because you’re a student. What you’re entitled to depends on what financial support you already receive in the form of grants, bursaries, etc.

Despite being a hassle with no guarantees, it’s still worth completing an HC1 form as a student, as this is the only way you can get free dental care and prescriptions. 

Even if you aren’t eligible for completely free cover through an HC2 certificate, you may be able to get a HC3 certificate, which entitles you to partial support with your dental costs and NHS prescriptions.

Which certificate you get will be determined once you submit your HC1 form. Most students are eligible for either an HC2 or HC3 certificate, which you can use to save on (or completely waive) the cost of most treatments.

What health services are available to students?

Understanding the different healthcare services available to you and how and when to access them can be confusing. Here are a few basics you should memorise.

General healthcare

For general, non-urgent medical advice, make an appointment with your doctor’s surgery (aka your GP). Learn more about registering and booking appointments with a GP here.

Frustratingly, GP surgeries are usually only open during office hours (8am-6pm Mon-Fri). If you need medical advice during evenings or weekends, phone 111.

Urgent care

If you have non-life-threatening illness symptoms or an injury that requires urgent treatment (e.g. a burn, head injury, or possible broken limb), visit an urgent treatment centre (aka NHS walk-in centre). Learn more about NHS walk-in treatment centres.

You don’t need an appointment to use these services, but phoning ahead to let them know you’re coming could help you get seen more quickly. You can find your nearest urgent treatment centres using this search tool.

Accident & Emergency (A&E) services

A&E is a hospital department that deals with serious emergencies that require urgent care (e.g. chest pains, breathing difficulties, or severe bleeding). They are where ambulances bring patients who need urgent treatment.

If you’re unsure whether you should go to A&E or an urgent treatment centre, call 111, and they can advise you. If you or someone you’re with needs to go to A&E due to serious illness or injury and you can’t get there, call 999 so an ambulance can be sent for you. Learn more about A&E.

Note: you do not need an HC2 or HC3 certificate to qualify for free emergency care, hospital treatment, or GP appointments. These are automatically free for all UK residents through the NHS.

Tips for accessing healthcare as a student in the UK

Register with a GP and a dentist in your uni town when you first arrive. Use the links in the article to find and register with whichever practices seem the best for you. You will need to know your NHS number to register yourself.

You can only be registered with one GP or dentist at a time. Being a university student can feel like living a double life between home and uni sometimes, especially when deciding where to register your health services. But, because you spend 9 months out of 12 at uni each year, it makes sense to register with a GP and dentist in the place where you study. 

If you need to see a doctor when you’re back home outside of term, you can make a temporary appointment with your old doctor. Make sure you take your NHS number with you so they can pass on any notes to your term-time doctor and keep your medical records complete.

If you need a doctor’s appointment, call your GP’s surgery first thing in the morning (usually between 8—8:30am) to get a same-day telephone or emergency face-to-face appointment. If you call at any other time of day, you will either have to wait several days for an appointment or call back the following morning.

Complete an HC1 form as soon as you get to university so you can access financial support for health treatment while you’re a student. There’s no point in spending money unnecessarily, and an HC2 certificate can save you a lot over three years of uni. Once you get your certificate, make a note of the expiry date. If it’s before you finish uni, remember to apply for a new one so you don’t lose any cover.

Any time anything’s unclear regarding appointments, costs, and the support available to you, ask the doctor, receptionist, or whoever you’re speaking with to clarify the situation and what you need to do next. 

Having a publicly-funded health service is wonderful, but it’s a huge, complex institution, and it’s not always user-friendly. It’s almost impossible to understand every detail of it as a service user, so ask the people who work in the system every day whenever you’re unsure of anything. They’re more familiar with it and can usually give you the answer you need.

Further healthcare resources

Learn how and when to access the different NHS services available to you

Learn more about urgent and emergency care services

Learn more about getting help with health costs

Find NHS services near you