The National Health Service (NHS) provides professional health care for most people in the UK. To see a doctor (a GP) you should register with a doctor’s surgery in your area very soon after you arrive. If you need specialist help you must first be referred by your local GP, so make sure you register.

The NHS Lothian website will help you to find a GP, dentist or optician near you. You should take proof of your student status, photographic identification (such as your passport), or an existing NHS number with you when you register. Once you have registered you will be sent a medical card with your National Health Service number.

If you later move out of the area or want to change your doctor for any reason, you should fill in the appropriate part of the card and hand it in to the new GP. Most GP surgeries have a number of doctors (GPs) and nurses working on site and if you especially wish to see a male or female GP this should be possible. Appointments are normally made through the receptionist.

GPs cover primary health needs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but not all surgeries open on Saturdays and most close around 5pm/6pm.

You will be given information about your new surgery opening times when you register. When you cannot access help through the surgery and need medical advice or assistance before the next day, you can still phone at any time, although your call may be put to another service, such as NHS 24.

NHS 24

This is a professionally staffed helpline providing advice and information. When your surgery is not available it can help you assess whether you need immediate medical treatment or if you can wait until your GP’s surgery re- opens. Call 111.


An emergency is defined as a sudden and acute need for medical help.  Only in a case of genuine emergency should you attend the Accident and Emergency Department of a local hospital. Please don’t go to A&E for minor ailments, or things that can wait until you can get an appointment with your GP.  They are not emergencies.

In Lothian, only the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, The Sick Kids (for under 13’s only), St John’s Livingston and The Eye Pavilion in Chalmers Street, Edinburgh have emergency services. The Western General has a drop-in Minor Injuries Unit that’s operational 7 days a week from 9am – 9pm with the last appointment at 8.30pm.

The same applies to calling an ambulance. If you really need to get to hospital quickly because you have a genuine medical emergency and you are incapacitated, call an ambulance on 999. Don’t call an ambulance for a minor injury or if your need is not so acute that you can ask a friend to give you a lift, or you can take a bus or taxi to get there.


Hospital treatment: all students who are studying full-time courses of any duration in Scotland are eligible for NHS emergency treatment. This also applies to spouses and dependents. If a GP has to refer a patient to hospital for treatment, under the NHS there will be no charge.

Under the NHS you can visit the doctor for free. If medication is prescribed by the GP for your condition, you will be able to get this free of charge at the chemist’s/pharmacy.

EU students are advised to have a European Health Insurance Card before they come to the UK.

From 6 April 2015, international students no longer have access to free non-emergency hospital treatment, unless you have paid the immigration health surcharge. You are advised to have comprehensive sickness insurance before you come to the UK.

See Health-and-healthcare for updates.

More information about NHS costs can also be found at 


If you think you need glasses, or have to replace your glasses, you will need to visit an optician. Eye tests are free but you will have to cover the costs of the glasses/contact lenses unless you qualify for help on the grounds of low income. You can pick up form HC1 from the ENSA office at B34 Merchiston to apply for financial support.


You should register with a dentist as soon as possible. To find an NHS dentist see There is a shortage of NHS dentists and it can be difficult to find one willing to accept new patients. You may be able to get help towards the costs of NHS dental treatment on the grounds of low income by completing a HC1 form, available from ENSA Offices.


Anyone who is not registered with a NHS dentist can obtain emergency treatment to relieve pain at Chalmers Dental Centre, 3 Chalmers Street, Edinburgh, EH3 9EW, (up to 3pm Mon to Fri). For out of hours after 5pm and weekends, telephone Lothian Dental Advice Line on 0131 536 4800. (The service is really there is for emergency pain relief and often the dentist will only do enough to relieve your pain until you can get to a dental surgery. The Centre is open Monday to Friday, 9am –3pm. This is a walk-in service and it may involve quite a wait and a number of assessments, but the treatment is highly professional. The usual NHS dental charges apply even to emergency treatment and you will be expected to pay on the day, so take some money with you. Emergency treatment rarely exceeds £40 and more usually between £10-20.


This is a rare disease, and the chances of contracting it are very small, even when there has been contact with someone who has developed the illness.  However, it develops quickly and can kill, so any symptoms must be taken seriously. Meningitis is usually contracted through personal/intimate contact and young people are considered most at risk. Students under the age of 25 can be vaccinated against Group C meningitis through their local GP surgery.

It is important that you are aware of the signs and symptoms as it could save a life. Initial symptoms can be confused with the onset of flu, or even a bad hangover, but someone with meningitis deteriorates very quickly, so don’t leave a flat-mate you think may be suffering. Symptoms must be recognised early and treated quickly.

Some of the main symptoms of Meningitis are:

  • fever
  • vomiting
  • unexplained drowsiness
  • cold hands / feet
  • severe headache
  • aversion to light
  • stiff neck
  • joint pain
  • skin rash that doesn’t fade under pressure
  • confusion / delirium/convulsions

Note that not all of these symptoms need to be present at any one time. If you are worried about yourself or a friend you should call the Meningitis Now free Helpline on 0808 80 10 388 available from 9am – 10pm or go to their website: Alternatively you can call NHS24 on 111. Don’t delay - time is of the essence.


Coming to University is a big life change for many students. Perhaps it is your first time away from home, or you are coming into higher education after a long period away from studying. You might have come half way round the world to be here and are missing home. Coping with changes in culture, lifestyle, finances, even language, as well as trying to keep up with studies, can sometimes get stressful and there may be times when things feel a bit bleak or scary.

A chat with friends might be enough to put life back into perspective, but there may be times when it’s not quite that simple.

There’s help available if you frequently:

  • feel depressed or worthless
  • lack motivation or feel lethargic
  • find it hard to concentrate
  • feel isolated
  • have problems sleeping
  • eat too much or too little
  • have panic or anxiety attacks
  • depend on alcohol / drugs
  • hear voices
  • self-harm

If you have any of these symptoms, making an appointment to see your GP is a good start. Student Mental Health Advisers can help and offer a completely confidential service, call them 0131 455 2929. ENSA Advice can also be contacted on 0131 229 8791. 


The University has a confidential Student Counselling Service available to offer emotional support and help students develop coping strategies. Phone 0131 455 2929 for details, or email

Should you wish to be put in touch with someone in matters of faith or spiritual direction, please email and your enquiry will be dealt with promptly and in confidence.


Breathing Space is a free confidential listening service which offers callers advice, guidance and support, underpinned by empathy and understanding. It is aimed at those (particularly, but not exclusively young men) who are suffering from mental health problems and emotional distress. Phone 0800 83 85 87. Lines open 6pm-2am, Monday to Thursday and 6pm Friday-6am Monday. Check out the website at


Nightline is a support service run by students for students open from 8pm to 8am. You can talk to one of their trained volunteers about any issue, big or small, in confidence. They can also provide information on a range of things including taxi numbers, sexual health clinics and even exam times. Nightline also offers an online instant messenger service from 8pm to midnight which students may find easier to use than speaking on the phone. Contact 0131 5574444.


Emergency and out of hours contacts