INPUT receives several enquiries every year from people with diabetes who are coming to the UK from overseas. Melissa, INPUT Chief Adviser, initially came to the UK as a foreign student some years ago so she knows what it’s like to have to get your head around a new health system in addition to everything else that comes with moving countries!
With immigration policy changes that took effect in April 2015, there are essentially 2 categories of migrants to the UK:
- People from the EU who do not require a visa, who are automatically eligible for free NHS treatment
- People from outside the EU who require a visa, most of whom must pay the new Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS)
To find out if you need to pay the IHS, and to obtain your IHS reference number if required (even if you’re exempt from paying), check out this page.
To find out how much the Immigration Health Surcharge should cost you if you have to pay it, try this calculator.
For people who must pay it, payment of the immigration health surcharge means you can access NHS hospital services free-of-charge.
Everyone who is eligible for NHS treatment (whether they have to pay IHS or not) needs to be registered with a local general practitioner (GP), a primary care doctor. If you are a student, your educational institution should help you with the process of registering with a GP.
- GPs can issue prescriptions for blood glucose test strips, insulin, glucagon and ketone test strips.
- A GP can also refer you to an NHS diabetes specialist service (considered a hospital/secondary care service).
- GPs cannot coordinate funding for insulin pumps or insulin pump supplies – these must be handled at the secondary care/hospital level. If you use a pump, be sure to ask your GP to refer you to a diabetes specialist centre that provides insulin pump therapy at your first appointment. INPUT has a list of pump services we hear good things about here on our website. These clinics also have a good reputation for the quality of care they offer for people on insulin injections.
It can take a few weeks to get your proof of address so you can register with a GP and it is usually 2 months from the time you get the referral to a hospital to your first clinic appointment. For this reason, INPUT suggests bringing 3-4 months’ worth of everything you use. Some GPs are stingy with test strips until they get told by a diabetes specialist to increase the number of strips they prescribe, so having extras will only be a good thing just in case. Also bring long-acting insulin for your backup plan in case of a pump malfunction prior to your first GP appointment, and it’s worthwhile having glucagon too. Insulin syringes can be bought over the counter at pharmacies.
If you use a pump, it’s a good idea to bring a letter in English (if possible) from your diabetes clinic in your home country that explains the reasons why you were initially put on a pump and confirms that your diabetes care team believes the pump is helping you. So much the better if you would have been eligible for a pump under the NICE criteria explained in our step-by-step guide to insulin pump access.
If you are coming to the UK to visit for less than 6 months, you will not be eligible for free NHS treatment during your stay. Bring all medical supplies with you that you expect to need, get good travel insurance that will cover medical expenses, and be prepared with funds to pay up-front for doctors’ appointments if you need medical treatment while you are in the UK.
Special information for students coming to the UK to study
If you are a student requiring a visa, you’ll fit into one of these subcategories:
- Course or programme lasts under 6 months (see this page)
- Course or programme lasts 6 months or more (see this page)
If you’re a student on a course lasting under 6 months, you will not be eligible for free NHS treatment during your stay. Bring all medical supplies with you that you expect to need, get good travel insurance that will cover medical expenses, and be prepared with funds to pay up-front for doctors’ appointments if you need medical treatment while you are in the UK.
If your course will last 6 months or more, you’ll have to pay the immigration health surcharge when you apply for your visa. More on that here.
You don’t have to pay the immigration health surcharge if you are a student from Australia or New Zealand, or the Falkland Islands (or another group listed here).
We hope this helps – please get in touch if you have specific questions we can try to answer!