Getting medical care as a student

If you're moving away from home to go to university, it's important to look after your health while you're there. Practical steps you need to take include registering with a new GP and finding your local sexual health service.

Health professionals who understand students' needs can support you. Dr Chris Allen, a GP at Imperial College London's Health Centre, says: "Many students will be having sex, some for the first time, so it's important to get advice on safe sex, sexual health and contraception.

"Being away from home for the first time, along with the academic and financial pressures of being a student, can lead to mental health problems, including anxiety and depression."

Below are Dr Allen's five health tips for new students.

1. Register with a local GP

If, like most students, you spend more weeks of the year at your college address than your family's address, you need to register with a GP near your college as soon as possible. That way you can receive emergency care if you need it and access health services quickly and easily while you're at college.

"It's especially important if you have an ongoing health condition such as asthma, diabetes or epilepsy," says Dr Allen. "Ideally, I like to see these patients within a few days of them starting college to check their health and medication."

You can choose to register with any local GP. The health centre attached to your college or university is likely to be the most convenient, and the doctors working there will be experienced in the health needs of students.

Many college health centres have good links with specialists such as psychiatrists, sports physicians, psychotherapists, counsellors and physiotherapists.

Having trouble getting an appointment? You can also always ask your local pharmacist for advice and support. When you go into the pharmacy, ask to speak to the pharmacist for medical advice.

Find your local GP surgery.

Getting ill during the holidays

If you become unwell or need other medical treatment when you're at home or not staying near your university GP, you can contact your nearest practice to ask for treatment. You can receive emergency treatment for 14 days. After that you will have to register as a temporary resident or permanent patient.

Registration as a temporary resident allows you to be taken on to the practice's list for up to a three-month period. If you're registered with a practice but are away from your home area, you can register temporarily with a practice where you're currently staying and still remain a patient of your registered practice.

Try to have the following information available when you attend your appointment for the first time:

  • details of your ongoing medical problems
  • details of medical problems you have suffered in the past
  • the name of any medicines you are currently taking
  • details of any allergies
  • contact details of your registered or previous practice

You can also visit an NHS walk-in centre or minor injuries unit. These can provide treatment for minor injuries or illnesses such as cuts, bruises and rashes.

However, they are not designed for treating long-term conditions or immediately life-threatening problems. You don't need to be registered and you don't need an appointment.

2. Register with a dentist

Dental problems can't be dealt with by doctors, so make sure you register with a local dentist. Not all treatment is free, even under the NHS. You can apply for help with health costs, including prescriptions and dental care, by filling out an HC1 form, which is available from most surgeries and pharmacies.

Find an NHS dentist

3. Check your vaccinations

Men ACWY vaccination

Students are now routinely offered a vaccination to prevent meningitis W disease. The Men ACWY vaccine protects against four different causes of meningitis and septicaemia – meningococcal (Men) A, C, W and Y diseases. It replaces the separate Men C vaccine.

All 17- and 18-year-olds in school year 13 and first-time university students up to the age of 25 are eligible as part of the NHS vaccination programme. GP practices will automatically send letters inviting 17-and 18-year-olds in school year 13 to have the Men ACWY vaccine.

But if you're a student going away to university or college for the first time, contact the GP you're registered with to ask for the Men ACWY vaccine, ideally before the start of the academic year. 

This is because you'll be at particularly high risk in the first weeks of term, when you are likely to come into contact with many new people of a similar age.

Mumps vaccination

Universities and colleges also advise students to be immunised against mumps before starting their studies.

"These infections are rare, but occur more commonly among students. There have been several outbreaks of both infections in a number of UK universities in recent years," says Dr Allen. "Both are serious infections. Meningococcal meningitis can kill, and mumps can damage fertility."

Flu jab

Get an annual flu vaccination if you have asthma and take inhaled steroids. You should also get a flu vaccination if you have a serious long-term condition such as kidney disease.

4. Get contraception

Even if you don't plan to be sexually active while you're a student, it's good to be prepared. Contraception and condoms are free to both men and women from any GP (it doesn't have to be your own) or family planning clinic.

"Students can make an appointment for advice on contraception and sexual health at any time. The sooner you do it, the better," says Dr Allen.

Find your local sexual health service.

5. Rest and eat healthy food

Prevention is better than cure, as the saying goes, so you'll greatly increase your chances of avoiding your GP's waiting room by taking care of yourself in the first place.

Student life may not be renowned for early nights and healthy eating, but getting enough sleep and eating well will mean you have a better chance of staying healthy. You'll feel more energetic and be better equipped to cope with studying and exams.

Remember to:

Eating well doesn't have to cost a lot and is often cheaper than takeaways. Taking the time to cook simple meals instead of eating out or buying ready meals is also healthier. Buy a student cookbook for affordable healthy recipe ideas.

Read more about healthy eating on a budget.

Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA)

As a higher education student living in England, you can apply for a Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA) if you have a:

  • disability
  • long-term health condition
  • mental health condition
  • specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia

The support you get depends on your individual needs and not on income.

Page last reviewed: 20/08/2014

Next review due: 09/12/2016


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