You can get health advice and information 24/7 through NHS Direct. This is a truly brilliant service, particularly for students a long way from home. You can access it by telephone or online.
You can ring any time and speak to a nurse for advice and confidential health information − find out what to do if you are feeling ill, on your specific health conditions, on your local healthcare services (finding and contacting doctors, dentists, late-night opening pharmacy, minor injury clinics etc) and on self-help organisations. Ring NHS Direct on 08 45 46 47. In Scotland, ring NHS24 on 08454 24 24 24.
Online you can research your symptoms and local services through the NHS Direct website, which has a wealth of self-help information, health encyclopaedia and an information and advice enquiry service; check it out www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk. The corresponding websites in Wales and Scotland are www.nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk and www.nhs24.com. The BBC website has loads of excellent information on health and well-being − www.bbc.co.uk/health.
Most universities and colleges have their own student health services linked to the NHS. New students should register as an NHS patient, either with the university service or a local GP, in the first week of term. Your medical records from your family doctor at home will then follow you later. When you are at home during vacations you can still see your family doctor as a temporary resident.
All the information you give to doctors, nurses and counsellors remains confidential and will not be passed on to the college authorities without your specific consent. The staff in student health services are experienced in dealing with your particular needs. They will be able to offer advice on contraception, unwanted pregnancies, study difficulties, depression and eating problems such as anorexia nervosa. They will discuss with you how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS, and drug and alcohol problems. Information on healthy nutrition and keeping fit is available, as are meningitis vaccinations (recommended for first-year students). Some centres also have dentists, opticians and physiotherapists attached.
Most health services will also have facilities for dealing with psychological problems. They employ counsellors, psychiatrists and psychotherapists who may normally be in short supply in the NHS as a whole. Again, it must be emphasised that these services are confidential.
Many colleges have special arrangements for physically-disabled or chronically-ill students, but it is important to inform them in advance of any difficulties you may have.
Remember that the health centre staff are just as interested in preventing illness as in treating it, so feel free to consult them before health problems develop.
Students have no special NHS status. Once you are 19, you cease to be automatically exempt from NHS charges and are expected to pay for prescriptions, dental treatment, sight tests, glasses etc. You are only exempt from these charges if you can demonstrate that your income is really low (and your capital almost non-existent) or for other specified reasons eg you are pregnant or have a chronic health problem. Many students will qualify but you do need to get the appropriate form to avoid paying health charges. Get one from your student health centre, GP, dentist, optician, or pharmacist.
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