Foreign patients to pay for NHS care

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A new crackdown by the government will see foreign patients using NHS care paying much more than their treatment procedures actually cost.

The new rules, which will see individuals who come to the UK from outside Europe being charged 150% of the treatment cost, are set to be introduced during spring 2015. This implies that an operation that costs £1000 would cost certain patients £1500.

Overseas migrants and visitors are currently able to obtain free NHS care soon after their arrival in the UK. This leaves the health care system open to abuse. This burden costs the country around £2bn annually, of which around £300m is spent on health tourists, those who travel to Britain simply for health care.

Hospitals and doctors are being placed under pressure to spot and report those who should be paying for the treatment they receive on the NHS as the NHS trusts who fail to do so will be fined.

Refugees and asylum seekers will be exempt from these charges, but illegal immigrants will have to pay. Temporary migrants from outside Europe who wish to remain in the country more than six months will be required to pay a ‘health surcharge’, which is estimated to be around £200, when they submit their applications to enter or remain in the country. This charge could generate around £200m per year.

Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, stated that the government has no problem with foreign visitors making use of the NHS, as long as they pay for it as British families do by paying their taxes. He said that these plans will help in recouping around £500m each year, which would boost the NHS budget.

These new plans have been welcomed by campaigners. The Chief Executive of Patients Association, Katherine Murphy, said that the plans are in response to public concern that the current rules which regulate access to NHS services are far too generous, particularly when it is compared to international practice. It is also not applied correctly.

She stated that the NHS should offer an efficient service which benefits everybody. This means that it should take the required steps to clamp down on health tourism and overcome the abuse of the system.

The Chairman of the British Medical Association, Dr Mark Porter, said that more details were required as without it there are several question marks about whether the proposals are functional or not, and if the NHS has the resources and infrastructure to cope with the new system. He said that the duty of a doctor is to treat patients in front of them, not act as a border guard.

Some of the other measures health ministers are considering include the recovery of primary healthcare costs from foreign patients and restricting free NHS prescriptions, subsidised NHS dental treatment and optical vouchers.

Image Credit: KC Wong

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