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GPs to shun health tourist crackdown

GPs will refuse to obey proposed Government rules forcing practices to check patients' entitlement to free NHS care as part of a crackdown on so-called health tourists .

The early-warning signals were sent out last week after health minister John Hutton told a committee of MPs tough new measures to combat abuse of the health service would be published this month.

Hardline options include forcing all patients either to sign a declaration of entitlement or pay privately for their treatment.

Ministers also mooted in January that GPs could get to keep any money they save the health service if they blow the whistle on NHS tourists.

In evidence to the home affairs select committee, Mr Hutton said the current situation allowed 'scope for potential abuse' because patients registering with a GP do not have to establish entitlement.

He said the Government wanted to 'minimise the bureaucracy on frontline primary care staff' and the 'primary' burden of enforcement should fall on primary care trusts.

But he did not rule out some obligations on practices.

GPC deputy-chair Dr Hamish Meldrum said it would be difficult for GPs to turn people away: 'We are strongly opposed to anything that puts a GP in a situation where he asks people who do not have any money to pay.'

Increasing funding in urban areas to develop care of patients as a locally enhanced service is the only workable solution, he added.

Dr Anthony Welch, joint chief executive of Surrey and Sussex LMCs – an area that includes Gatwick and Heathrow airports – said many GPs would refuse on ethical grounds to force such patients to pay privately or insist on seeing a declaration of NHS entitlement.

He said: 'A lot of these people are vulnerable and many don't have access to money.'

Greenwich LMC co-chair Dr Karim Janmohamed said he would back a tougher stance: 'If I get a patient not entitled to treatment I tell them to bugger off or they can only see me privately.

'They then go to the PCT and get themselves allocated on to my list and guess what, I have to treat them.'

By Joe Lepper

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