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Accessing healthcare services


Last Updated

How to access the NHS

Translated information about how the National Health Service (NHS) works is available from the Doctors of the World website, together with a wide range of other translated information about the NHS:

Registering with a GP practice

First, you will be allocated a GP practice on arrival and supported to register at this practice.

When you register with a GP, you will be given an NHS number.

You’ll get a registration letter in the post and your NHS number will be shown in the letter. Make a note of your number or try not to lose this letter as knowing your NHS number will help you to access other NHS services.

You will be entitled to the same health benefits as every other person living here, whether they are new health concerns or helping to manage long-term conditions, and you will not be expected to pay for any of the advice that you receive.

Booking an appointment

If you feel you need an appointment with your GP practice you should phone them directly.

Getting medication

You can buy some medications in a pharmacy or at the pharmacy counter in a supermarket. For some medications, you will need a prescription from your doctor.

Prescriptions remain free of charge for all children up to the age of 16, or 18 if in full-time education. They are also free for contraception and for people with some long-term conditions and those on benefits.

If you are not certain if you need to pay, then speak to a pharmacist who can help.


Even though it may seem easier to bring a family member or friend to help translate at your appointment, we would instead recommend that you tell the person you are booking with that you need a translator, along with what language you require.

They can either book a trained medical translator or use the language line service which is through a phone. This is to ensure that safe and accurate translations take place to ensure the safety of both you as a patient as well as the clinician giving medical advice.


GP practices have a range of both male and female clinicians. When booking an appointment, it is possible to request a particular gender if you feel more comfortable, however, it is important to note that this is not always possible.

If you are having an examination and would like someone in the room, you can ask to either bring someone with you or get a chaperone.

Paying for healthcare

Medical care

All medical care is free for those who are a resident of the UK. This includes all appointments, physical assessments, any needed tests or scans and any operations.

For those who want to see specialists privately, this can be either self-funded or provided through insurance.

Dental care

Dental care is slightly different as it is all private treatment unless you are eligible for NHS treatment for which there is still some part payment required.

Any treatment that your dentist believes is clinically necessary to achieve and maintain good oral health should be available on the NHS. There are 4 bands of charges for all NHS dental treatments.

If you need treatment from more than one band as part of your treatment plan, you will only be charged the cost of the highest band treatment in your plan. You will not be charged for each individual treatment.

NHS medical exemption certificate

These are supplied for those who are eligible for free prescriptions due to medical grounds. The certificate:

  • entitles you to free NHS prescriptions only
  • doesn’t cover dental treatment or help with other health costs
  • should be shown when you collect a prescription
  • is valid for five years (or until your 60th birthday, whichever is sooner)

If you think you are eligible, you can apply for a medical exemption certificate through your GP.


A lot of medication is available to buy over the counter without a prescription from pharmacies and health stores (for example, Boots and Superdrug) as well as supermarkets.

For items that need a prescription, these are collected from a pharmacy only.

Some people who are eligible will get free prescriptions. For those who have to pay, the current prescription charge is £9.35 for each item. This is a set fee regardless of what medication you are receiving.

You can pay for a prescription prepayment certificate which is a set monthly fee regardless of how many items you require. Prepayment certificates are available to buy online through the NHS website.

Who is eligible for free NHS prescriptions?

Some groups are automatically entitled to free NHS prescriptions. You are eligible if you are:

  • pregnant or have recently had a baby
  • under 16 years old
  • aged 16 to 18 years old and in full-time education
  • over 60 years old

Or if you are on any of these benefits:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Universal Credit dependant on last assessment
  • Tax credits with an income of less than £15,276

If you are not sure of your eligibility or want more information then visit NHS Help with health costs.

If you try to claim free prescriptions without being eligible then it can be classed as fraud and you could face a fine.

Where to get medical help

Self help

There is a lot of useful advice which is easily accessible through your phone or computer from the NHS website, for both new problems and long-term conditions.

It will help to guide you if you do not know where you need to go for further help for each condition as well as provide advice about how to treat or manage certain conditions at home.


At all local pharmacies you are able to get advice as well and you can buy medications and supplies to manage many conditions at home, such as:

  • allergies
  • burns (minor)
  • coughs
  • colds
  • constipation
  • dry skin
  • earwax
  • haemorrhoids
  • hayfever
  • heartburn
  • pain relief
  • sore throat
  • sunburn

They will usually ask some questions to make sure you are getting correct and safe treatment, and will also advise you if you need to go to your GP practice or other services instead.

NHS 111

NHS 111 can help if you have an urgent medical problem and you’re not sure what to do. They are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

You answer questions about your symptoms on the website, or by speaking to a fully trained adviser on the phone, by calling 111.

They will either give you self-care advice, direct you to somewhere for treatment or book an appointment with a clinician.

If your symptoms get worse, please get help from (in English).

For help in other languages, call 111 and ask for an interpreter.

GP practice

You can get help from a GP for free, but you’ll usually need to make an appointment which are for routine and non-urgent conditions that can usually wait a few days.

If you feel your problem is urgent but not life-threatening, then call 111 for advice on how best to manage your concern.

Practices offer a range of services on a face-to-face basis including phlebotomy (blood tests), immunisations and vaccinations, cervical screening and health checks.

GPs play an important role in cardiovascular, metabolic and respiratory diseases and mental health problems. They run clinics for patients with chronic conditions such as asthma, hypertension and diabetes.

Urgent care centre

Urgent care centres are there to manage problems that still require urgent medical treatment, but are not life
threatening that would require a hospital visit.

These units are usually run by very experienced advanced nurses and paramedics who are able to help with concerns such as:

  • suspected broken limbs
  • minor head injuries
  • cuts and grazes
  • bites and stings
  • minor scalds and burns
  • being sick (vomiting) and diarrhoea
  • emergency contraception
  • skin infections and rashes
  • sprains and strains
  • eye problems
  • coughs and colds
  • high fever
  • stomach pain

Accident and emergency (A&E)

A&E is there for helping those who are suffering from genuine life-threatening emergencies, either from injury
or illness. For example:

  • loss of consciousness
  • acute confused state and fits that are not stopping
  • chest pain
  • breathing difficulties
  • severe bleeding that cannot be stopped
  • severe allergic reactions
  • severe burns or scalds
  • stroke
  • major trauma such as a road traffic accident

First, you will be assessed when you get to the hospital, whether you’ve walked in or arrived by ambulance.

What happens next depends on the results of your assessment. Sometimes further tests need to be arranged before a course of action can be decided.

If the nurse or doctor feels your situation is not a serious accident or emergency, you may be sent to a nearby urgent care centre, minor injuries unit or referred to a GP on site.

Call 999

If you have had an accident or need emergency help, and either you are unable to or it is not safe to get yourself to A&E, then call 999 and ask for an ambulance.

Please note that just because you call an ambulance, it does not mean you will get seen any quicker in A&E unless it is a true emergency.

Some conditions that require an ambulance are:

  • persistent, severe chest pain
  • breathing difficulties
  • severe bleeding that can’t be stopped
  • if you think you or someone you are with is having a stroke
  • lost consciousness
  • fits that are not stopping
  • when someone is in an acute confused state

Pregnancy care

Looking after women when they are pregnant remains a priority within the UK for the wellbeing of both mother
and baby.

When you find out that you are pregnant, you can self refer to the local midwifery team who will continue to care for you until four weeks after you have delivered your baby.

They are there to help with any concerns, perform regular blood and urine tests to assess for any problems, arrange ultrasound scans to monitor the pregnancy and discuss a birthing plan with you.

Mental health

Looking after your mental health is just as important as your physical wellbeing. There are specialist services for adults and children dedicated to those who have become refugees, as well as general mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression.

We are fortunate to have our own specialist Mental Health Team who care for all our patients and you can book directly with them.

For more specialist care there is the Community Mental Health Team, with separate adult and children’s services.

If you are worried about your mental health and would like to discuss your options, then call and book an appointment with a GP. If you are having a mental health crisis and need immediate help, call the 24/7
Urgent Mental Health helpline on 0808 196 8708.


It is recommended that most people should get their eyes tested every two years.

Your eyes rarely hurt when something is wrong with them, so having regular eye tests is important to help detect potentially harmful conditions.

If you’re eligible for a free NHS sight or eye test, the NHS pays for it and you will not be charged. Otherwise, they cost roughly £25.

Your ophthalmic practitioner or optometrist may recommend you have an NHS sight test more often than every two years if you:

  • are a child wearing glasses
  • have diabetes
  • are aged 40 or over and have a family history of glaucoma
  • are aged 60 or over

Hearing services

You can get a free hearing assessment at places like Boots and Specsavers on the high street. If it is abnormal, then your GP can refer you to an NHS hearing aid provider if they think you might need a hearing aid.

The benefits of getting a hearing aid on the NHS include:

  • hearing aids being provided for free as a long-term loan
  • free batteries and repairs (there may be a charge if you lose or break your hearing aid and it needs to be replaced)
  • not having to pay for any follow-up appointments or aftercare

The hearing aids available on the NHS are more basic than others available, but others are available if you are happy to self-fund them.

Dental care

Just like medical care, some dental care is also available within the NHS for those who are eligible. For those that are not eligible then treatment is self-funded.

It is important to start visiting the dentist when a child starts to get their first teeth, and then continue with
regular checkups to avoid any damage to the teeth.

If you do get any new dental pain then they will also be able to check your teeth and treat any problems they find. This includes x-rays, fillings, removals and surgery.

There are lots of local dentists, many will treat both NHS and private patients so it is important to check before agreeing to any treatment.

Once you have registered with a dentist then you can contact them for any routine or emergency appointment.

If you have not yet registered with a dentist then you can call Access Dental – NHS Devon Dental Helpline
on 01392 822348. If you have an emergency, or to register, please call 03330 063 300.

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