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What are overseas visitors entitled to?

Q - If GPs can register any overseas visitors, what are the limitations on the services those visitors can receive?

Can visitors be given an FP10 or be referred to community- based services such as district nurses or for secondary care? Could staff refuse patients in their own right?

A - Broadly speaking, persons not eligible for free NHS treatment may be charged for everything provided by an NHS 'authority' except for emergency care, treatment for a range of communicable diseases, insanity and family planning advice.

All providers of hospital and community services may charge.

Written guidance from the Department of Health issued in 1999 reminds GPs they are obliged to offer NHS emergency care to any overseas visitors. Where visitors seek non-emergency treatment and are otherwise ineligible for free NHS hospital and community services, GPs are given the choice of registering them or of treating them privately.

If accepted as NHS patients a GP may issue FP10s which will be dispensed under the normal arrangements by a pharmacy. If patients are referred for other NHS services they should be warned it is possible they may be charged.

Clinical staff such as district nurses are not in a position to decline referrals, but they should report their concerns to managers should they believe a person not eligible for free treatment has been referred to them.

Steve Ainsworth is a management consultant specialising in the NHS and general practice and is a former FHSA director

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