Overseas visitors are set to be charged for some GP services but will continue to be able to access consultations without charge, the Department of Health has announced.
The proposals, which are subject to consultation, include charging visitors for things like blood tests, lung function rests and prescriptions.
Since April, overseas visitors are already charged at 150% of the tariff price for hospital treatments.
The Government said GP and nurse consultations would ’remain free to protect public health’ but the BMA warned that patients may be deterred from making an appointment as the system proposed would ‘cause confusion’.
Overseas visitors and migrants will be expected to pay unless they have the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), where costs will be recovered from their country of residence, or fall into an exemption category.
The DH said: ’No patient will be denied emergency care – where treatment is deemed immediately necessary, it will always be given without seeking prior payment or a deposit.’
It added that the mechanisms of how costs will be recovered and how much services will cost ’will be set following the consultation when the Government will work with stakeholders, including GP practices, hospitals and ambulance trusts, to develop an implementation plan for the introduction of the proposals in 2017’.
The consultation document said: ‘The DH aims to recover up to £500m per year from charging overseas migrants and visitors by the middle of this Parliament (2017/18). This can only be achieved through encouraging fair contributions from visitors and migrants, and through encouraging behaviour changes in the NHS.
’The recovery of up to £500m per year will contribute to the £22bn savings required to ensure the long-term sustainability of the NHS and deliver the NHS’ own plan, the Five Year Forward View.’
The consultation proposes that charging for overseas visitors and migrants will be extended to GP and primary care services including:
- blood tests
- lung function tests
- dental treatment
- eye care costs
It will also charge for A&E services including: filling wounds, procedures to drain fluids including from lungs, setting broken bones, x-rays and intensive care in A&E before being admitted
Ambulance services incurring a charge include care received from paramedics and transport costs
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: ’We want to make sure that everyone makes a fair contribution to services, by extending charging to make sure visitors pay for the care they receive. This Government was the first to introduce tough measures to clampdown on migrants accessing the NHS and these changes will recover up to £500m per year to put back into frontline patient care.’
BMA chair Dr Mark Porter said: ’Not only will this arrangement cause confusion amongst patients, it will also require GPs and hospital doctors to spend more time on the paperwork and bureaucracy needed to regulate these charges. This could mean the administration of the new system could end up costing more to run than it collects in revenue.’
He added that there was ’a real risk that some migrants and short term visitors who desperately need care could be discouraged from approaching the NHS if they cannot pay the charges’ and that there ’could be particular confusion over access entitlements to emergency care services, given the proposals introduce charging for A&E visits yet say no patient will be turned away if they need care’.
’Similarly, while patients won’t have to pay for GP appointments they may have to pay for follow up tests and treatment. We cannot have a situation where any patient with a serious health need is deterred from seeing a doctor, especially if their condition raises a potential public health risk,’ he said.
The three-month consultation closes 6 March 2016.