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Tough new sanctions to combat ‘health tourism’

Ministers say pay for NHS care or face deportation

Mark Gould

Friday, 18 March 2011

Overseas visitors who owe the NHS £1,000 or more will be deported or barred from entry to the UK under tough new sanctions to crackdown on so-called “health tourism”.

The Home Office will pass details of any overseas visitor owing the NHS £1,000 or more to the UK Border Agency so it will be able to identify debtors when they make their application to return or stay in the UK.

Announcing the new sanctions today, immigration minister Damian Green, said: “The NHS is a national health service not an international one. If someone does not pay for their treatment we will not let them back into the country. We need robust controls to protect our public services.”

Public health minister Ann Milton hopes the £1000 threshold, which will be implemented later this year, will capture 94% of outstanding charges owed to the NHS.

UK residents will now be able to spend six months abroad without losing their automatic entitlement to free hospital treatment. Previously the entitlement ran out after three months.

The small number of failed asylum seekers who are co-operating on registered Home Office support schemes to be exempt from charges - but not other failed asylum seekers who refuse to return home.

Unaccompanied children will be guaranteed free hospital treatment while under local authority care.

The moves follow publication of two consultations by the Department of Health and the Home Office on charging overseas visitors for NHS hospital care.

The Government has adopt the consultation proposals but also gone further saying the existing system “is still too complex, generous and inconsistently applied. While the NHS remains committed to providing immediate or necessary care, it is important that a balance of fairness and affordability is also struck.”

A full review of the rules and practice will now be undertaken and will consider qualifying residency criteria for free treatment, the full range of other current criteria that exempt particular services or visitors from charges for their treatment and whether visitors should be charged for GP services and other NHS services outside of hospitals.

The government also wants to establish more effective and efficient processes across the NHS to screen for eligibility and to make and recover charges; and will discuss whether to introduce a requirement for health insurance tied to visas.

Anne Milton said:

“The NHS has a duty to anyone whose life or long-term health is at immediate risk, but we cannot afford to become an international health service, providing free treatment for all.

“These changes will begin the process of developing a clearer, robust and fairer system of access to free NHS services which our review of the charging system will complete. I want to see a system which maintains the confidence of the public while preventing inappropriate free access and continuing our commitment to human rights and protecting vulnerable groups."

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