Foreigners face charge to access NHS

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Non-EU nationals who come to the UK for more than six months could be charged at least £200 a year to access NHS treatment, it will be announced later.

The charge – an attempt to crack down on so-called “health tourism” – will be on top of visa charges, officials say.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is expected to announce a public consultation, said he was “determined to wipe out abuse in the system”.

Some doctors have claimed the move would turn surgeries into border posts.

The government believes some people come to the UK to take advantage of the system.

BBC political correspondent Robin Brant said the NHS was free at the point of delivery – no matter who you were or where you came from.

Foreigners were entitled to various treatments, including emergency care and treatment for diseases like HIV and TB, he said.

But little was known about the total cost to taxpayers, he added.
The NHS is a national treasure and we need to work with the entire health system to develop plans and make sure it is sustainable for years to come”

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt
The Department of Health says the cost of treating foreigners is at least £30m a year for the NHS in England alone.

Immigration Minister- Mark Harper

Immigration Minister- Mark Harper

A spokesman said a new charge would “ensure that migrants contribute towards the cost of their healthcare whilst not increasing red tape and administration for NHS professionals”.

Mr Hunt said the government needed to “ensure that those residing or visiting the UK are contributing to the system in the same way as British taxpayers and ensure we do as much as possible to target illegal migration”.

“We have been clear that we are a national health service not an international health service and I am determined to wipe out abuse in the system,” he added.

“The NHS is a national treasure and we need to work with the entire health system to develop plans and make sure it is sustainable for years to come.”

The government is also considering ending free access to GPs for foreigners staying less than six months.

‘Public concern’
Some doctors have warned they fear being turned into “a form of immigration control”.

It’s absolutely essential that any policy in this regard is based upon facts, it’s not based upon perceptions or dog-whistle policies”

Jamie Reid
Labour health spokesman
The Royal College of GPs told BBC News the plans would place further burdens on doctors.

Chair Dr Clare Gerada said: “My first duty is to my patient – I don’t ask where they’re from or whether they’ve got a credit card or whether they can pay.”

Labour health spokesman Jamie Reid, meanwhile, said more details were needed about the extent of the problem.

“It’s absolutely essential that any policy in this regard is based upon facts, it’s not based upon perceptions or dog-whistle policies or assumptions which are proven later not to be true,” he told BBC News.

“But it’s absolutely the case that this is our national health service, it’s not an international health service, and it should be treated as such.”

The National Aids Trust said the policies would “undermine years of work to encourage marginalised at-risk groups to access HIV testing and treatment”.

Chief executive Deborah Jack said “limiting access to primary care for some migrants” would cut off “the only place many of them will get an HIV diagnosis – short of presenting at A&E many years after they were infected once they are very seriously ill”.

She added: “If they go ahead, they risk putting lives at risk and accelerating the spread of HIV in the general population.”

The Department of Health said people with HIV would still receive free healthcare if the scheme was introduced.

The government has previously said a government-wide push to cut “benefit tourism” was being considered in response to “widespread public concern”.

BBC © 2013

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  • austinvital

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