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Practices could be given obligation to prevent health tourism

Patients with a ‘questionable’ residency status will be issued with a temporary NHS number, under plans being considered by the Department of Health.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt revealed the plans to the Daily Mail, which reported that this is how he wants to fight growing concerns over ‘health tourism’ into the UK.

A Department of Health source told the Daily Mail, practices or hospitals could be given a new ‘obligation’ to check up on patients looking to register with the NHS to make sure they are genuine UK residents.

Options could include checking electoral registers or council tax rolls, with patients granted only emergency care if these checks do not prove permanent residency.

A Pulse survey in January revealed that more than half of GPs believe NHS entitlements for migrants are too generous.

Mr Hunt told the Mail he proposed that anyone with a ‘questionable’ residency status should be issued with only a temporary NHS number. 

He said: ‘It is completely unacceptable that people are abusing the NHS and accessing free care they are not entitled to.

‘Changing the way the NHS number is used is just one stage of my plan to shut down free NHS care for those who are not entitled to it.’

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘We can confirm that we are looking into this idea but cannot comment on any further detail at this time.’

But Dr Peter Swinyard, chair of the Family Doctor Association and a GP in Swindon, commented: ‘It is no place for doctors to be the policemen for the immigration service and he needs to look elsewhere.’

Readers' comments (3)

  • "Mr Hunt told the Mail"

    that says it all really.............

    On a serious note, Mr Hunt should clarify his position with the home office first - they seem to have very different opinion on entitlement of NHS care.

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  • The main problem is that the rules concerning residency have been so woolly in the past that they've been impossible to interpret. I might also help if there weren't different rules for primary and secondary care!

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  • Entitlement to NHS care is a matter for the DH, not the Home Office. The HO can pronounce on a person's immigration status; it is then for employees of the NHS to pronounce on eligibility, which may in turn depend on immigration status (since access to the NHS is based on residency). Hereby lies another problem - the definition of "residency" is different between the 2 departments.
    So true that it would help if primary care and secondary care had the same rules governing access. Primary care guidance allows for registration by virtually anyone, which causes massive problems within secondary care where the guidance for chargeability is more robust - the result of this is the haemorrhaging of large amounts of money from NHS coffers.

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