Ministers have published an independent report that estimates its plans for a levy on migrants to use the NHS could raise £200m a year, and found the public supported the idea ‘in principle’.
The independent report also found that many respondents supported an idea of compulsory pre-registration for NHS services before attending primary or secondary care, but that GPs were too overworked to carry out these checks themselves.
The figures have been released ahead of the second reading of the Government’s Immigration Bill, which will push ahead with introducing a charge of £150 to £200 for migrants accessing healthcare in the UK.
This is despite vocal opposition from the BMA – which said it could be ‘detrimental’ to patients and also affect the NHS workforce – and the RCGP, which branded the plans as ‘regressive’.
Under the new system, this surcharge will be set at around £150 for students and at around £200 for other temporary migrants, which the DH said would raise up to £1.9 billion over a ten-year period, based on approximately 490,000 applicants who would be required to pay.
The Department of Health said that it would introduce a simplier system to ensure that GPs can know whether patients are eligible for treatment in the UK, as part of a group of measures designed to recoup the costs of treating migrants
Under the consultation plans, patients would be pre-registered to acquire an NHS number that would alert providers as to whether they were eligible for free healthcare, EEA nationals, temporary migrants who had paid the NHS levy or were directly chargeable.
The report said: ‘The idea of a card or number that has to be produced takes responsibility away from the providers and had appeal. Primary care practices often described feeling overwhelmed already with the numbers of new patients they were registering, and would not want to take on the role of establishing whether or not new patients were chargeable.’
The DH announcement said that costs to be recovered were: ‘£388 million from patients in the UK, the £200 million generated through the surcharge, and the deterrent effect on the £70-£300 million from health tourists’ adding that ‘this will together raise or save well over half a billion pounds’.
‘Even if only 75 per cent of this £500 million was recovered, it would be the equivalent of almost 4,000 doctors’ or over 8,500 nurses’ salaries,’ the DH said in the announcement.
The DH also announced that it will establish a ‘cost-recovery unit’ headed by a director of cost recovery, alongside the appointment of Health Education England chair Sir Keith Pearson as an ‘independent adviser’ on visitor and migrant cost recovery. It said it will also introduce a new incentive for hospitals to report that they have treated someone from the EEA to enable the Government to recover the costs of care from their home country.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt commented: ‘Having a universal health service free at the point of use rightly makes us the envy of the world, but we must make sure the system is fair to the hardworking British taxpayers who fund it. We have one of the most generous systems in the world when it comes to health care for foreign visitors, but it’s time for action to ensure the NHS is a national health service – not an international one.’
‘With the NHS already under pressure from an ageing population, it cannot be right that large amounts of taxpayers’ money is being lost through treating people who should be paying from foreign countries.’
‘These independent reports prove this is a serious problem that the Government was right to address. We are confident our new measures will make the NHS fairer and more sustainable for the British families and taxpayers it was set up to serve.’