Healthcare in London: 7 things you need to know

Moving to London means finding a flat, finding a job and finding friends. But what about finding a doctor? Probably one of the last things on your to-do list – if it’s even there at all – registering with a GP is the kind of thing your mum nags you about, but you can never be bothered doing for yourself. But you probably should. Getting sick is pretty shit most of the time, never mind when you’re miles away from home, and battling with GP receptionists (a notoriously painful experience in London) and outdated prescriptions is going to make that pounding headache ten times worse. Good news is, if you’re moving to London from within the UK, changing your doctor is incredibly easy – so there’s no excuses.

Finding your new GP
The best and easiest way to find your closest GP surgery is on the NHS website. Just enter your postcode and get a list of the closest doctor’s surgeries to your address. The website even gives you a rating for each surgery (you can Google your preferred surgery to get other reviews too) and, crucially, lets you know whether or not they are taking on new patients – if they are, just pop in and get a registration form (you’ll probably have to take ID and proof of address with you) and you’re usually set up and able to book appointments within a week.

Only coming to London for a short time?
If you’re coming to London on a temporary basis – be it for an internship, short course of even a long holiday – you can still register with a GP practice. Most surgeries will take you on as a temporary patient if you’ll be living in the area for less than 3 months.

Medical care before registering with a GP
There are a lot of important things to take care of when you move to a new city, and sometimes it can take awhile to sort it all out. If you fall ill or need an NHS England prescription (prescriptions from the rest of the UK, despite still being NHS, won’t be accepted in pharmacies here) before you manage to register with a GP, there are walk-in surgeries all over the city that are open seven days a week. You don’t need to be a registered patient or even living in London to attend, but do keep in mind that the centres are almost entirely non-appointment based, so be prepared to wait for as long as a few hours. Also remember that walk-in GPs are for minor injuries and illnesses only (bruises, minor cuts, rashes etc) and for anything more serious or requiring immediate attention you should go to A&E at the hospital, or phone 111 if your injury/illness is urgent but not life-threatening. To find your closest walk-in, enter your postcode here.

Prescription charges
If you’re moving to London from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, prescription charges won’t be something you’re familiar with – so be warned. Unlike the rest of Britain, NHS England does NOT offer free presriptions – instead there is a charge of £8.60 per item. For most people there’s no way around this (see below), but it’s worth noting that a lot of treatments issued on prescription are actually cheaper if you buy them over the counter. If your doctor issues you with a prescription, make sure you do a bit of research first to avoid paying over the odds unnecessarily – check prices for the item you’ve been prescribed and buy it without the prescription if you find it’s less than £8.60 – in Boots, for example. Do make sure you find this out for yourself though, as pharmicists often aren’t able to tell you about cheaper alternatives as they can be reported for doing so.

Useful numbers to help with figuring out your prescription costs:
NHS Low Income Scheme helpline – 0300 330 1343
Prescription services helpline – 0300 330 1349
Queries about medical exemption certificates – 0300 330 1341
Queries about prescription prepayment certificates (PPCs) – 0300 330 1341

People who CAN get free prescriptions
Though the majority of people face charges for their prescriptions, there are some exceptions: for example, if you’re currently pregnant or have had a baby within the last year you should ask for form FW8 from your doctor/midwife, who can send away for a maternity exemption certificate for you. Otherwise, if you have certain medical conditions or a long-term illness (like diabetes, epilepsy etc) you will get your medication for free. To do so you’ll need to apply for a medical exemption certificate from your doctor: get hold of your NHS number (just call your previous GP who should be able to give it to you), and fill out an application at the reception of your new GP, who will send it away for you. The application can take around a month to be processed so make sure you plan a head: either stock up enough medication before you move to cover you for a couple of months, or buy any medication at an English pharmacy and keep a hold of the receipts – you will be able to get a refund if you apply within three months of paying the prescription charge, but make sure you get form FP57 from your doctor before you buy.

Contraception on prescription – do I need to pay?
If you take any kind of regular prescribed contraception (like the pill) the prescription charges do not apply. But remember, if you’re moving to London from outside of England, make sure you register with a doctor and get an NHS England prescription for your contraception as soon as possible – prescriptions from any other country in Britain will not be accepted, even though they are still part of the NHS. The only form of contraception not covered by the NHS is emergency contraception, like the ‘morning after pill’, which you can buy it from most pharmacies for around £30-£35. Likewise, like the rest of Britain, condoms are also not covered by the NHS, but you can usually pick up free ones at family planning and sexual health clinics.

Sexual health in London
Like GPs, sexual health clinics are available all over London. You can either call to book an appointment or just turn up on the day; most clinics offer walk-in appointments if you’re willing to wait. However, you do need to be registered with a GP to attend – though your doctor won’t be told about your visit without your permission, and, weirdly, you don’t even have to give your real name when you arrive. There are a load of different versions of sexual health clinics, whether you need family planning advice, want to be tested for an STI, or need to report a sexual assault. Your closest clinic for any of these can be found on the NHS website, or you can phone 111 if you’re not sure which service is best for you.You can find your closest sexual health clinic here.


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