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The waiting game

GPs won't have burden of rooting out NHS tourists

By Ian Cameron

GPs will not be responsible for checking patients' eligibility for free treatment as part of the Government's controversial crackdown on NHS tourists.

Pulse understands health minister John Hutton is deciding whether primary care organisations or the NHS counter fraud service should do the job.

A Department of Health source said Mr Hutton was aware the regime 'would not work if GPs have to do the checks'. The new system would be 'as light-touch as possible' for GPs, the source added.

Under the plans to be revealed next month, GPs would register and treat a new patient as normal, but would pass on any doubts over eligibility to their PCO or the counter fraud service.

Whichever organisation is chosen would carry out checks, contact patients and collect payment for treatment.

If a patient were found to have fraudulently claimed and received free care or not paid their bill, it would be responsible for recovering the money.

As revealed by Pulse, the Government wants practices to receive private fees paid by proven 'tourists' as an incentive to blow the whistle.

GPC Wales chair Dr Andrew Dearden said GPs would prefer the NHS told them about a patient's eligibility rather than having to check themselves. But he said the abuse must be addressed because GPs routinely faced patients with 'shopping lists' of drugs.

'You can ask certain questions but unless you tell a patient to go home and get their papers it's difficult to confirm eligibility or otherwise,' he said.

Professor David Haslam, chair of the RCGP council, said he wanted to see clear evidence of the scale of the problem before considering how it should be dealt with.

Dr Cornel Fleming, a GP in north London, said he asked to see foreign patients' passports and wouldn't register someone who was not eligible.

'It's generally no problem for patients. It gets my goat when I hear GPs say it's not their job. It's their taxes.'

The Department of Health rejected reports the new system would be delayed until 2007 because of GP resistance.

 · Eligibility chart, page 53

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