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NHS tourists to be charged a premium for healthcare

People from outside Europe will have to pay 150% of the cost of their treatment

Ingrid Torjesen

Monday, 14 July 2014

The Department of Health has announced details of how it plans to recoup more of the costs of providing NHS care to people who turn up to the UK from overseas expecting free healthcare.

Visitors and migrants can currently get free NHS care immediately or soon after arrival in the UK, leaving the NHS open to abuse. But now the government is asking the NHS to clamp down by identifying these patients more effectively so costs can be recovered from them.

In June, it was revealed that the NHS will receive an extra 25% on the top of the cost of every procedure they perform for an EEA migrant or visitor with a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This will begin in the autumn.

Now details of a non-EEA incentive, which will begin in spring 2015 have been announced. Under the plan, patients from outside Europe using the NHS will be charged 150% of the cost of treatment. The move is expected to ensure that by the middle of the next parliament, the NHS will recover up to £500 million a year from treating foreign visitors and migrants.

For those who are temporary migrants from outside the EEA and are here for longer than six months, a new health surcharge will be applied when they submit an application for leave to enter or remain in the UK. This surcharge could generate up to £200 million per annum in the future.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “We have no problem with international visitors using the NHS as long as they pay for it - just as British families do through their taxes. These plans will help recoup up to £500 million a year, making sure the NHS is better resourced and more sustainable at a time when doctors and nurses on the frontline are working very hard.”

Financial sanctions will also be put in place for trusts who fail to identify and bill chargeable patients.

Steps are being taken to help the NHS charge more effectively and consistently. A clearer registration process and IT system will help lessen the burden on busy staff, and there will be trials in some A&E departments to explore how details can be taken from patients with an EHIC when they register for care.

Options for recovering the costs of primary care services are also being explored. Eligibility to free NHS prescriptions, optical vouchers and subsidised NHS dental treatment will also be tightened.

Responding to the Department of Health's proposals, Dr Mark Porter, Chair of BMA Council said:

“Anyone accessing NHS services should be eligible to do so but a doctor's duty is to treat the patient that's in front on them, not to act as border guard. Any plans to charge migrants and short-term visitors need to be practical, economic and efficient and must not jeopardise access to healthcare for those who need it.

“Without more detail, there are question marks over whether or not these proposals will be workable and if the NHS has the infrastructure and resources necessary to administrate a cost-effective charging system. Plans to fine hospitals who fail to recoup costs would see them punished twice over, to the detriment of other services.

“Above all, it's vitally important that these proposals don't have an impact on the care patients receive and that sick and vulnerable patients aren't deterred from seeking necessary treatment, which can have a knock on effect on public health.”

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