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Hospitals and GPs urged to cooperate to catch out health tourism

Hospitals have been told to set up ‘formal’ relationships with GPs aimed at idenifying when patients should be charged, in a move GP leaders branded an ‘additional burden’ on practices.

Department of Health guidance on new charging regulations, which come into effect later this year, ‘strongly recommend’ that NHS bodies that should charge patients appoint a designated ‘overseas visitor manager’ (OVM) to liaise with practices.

Among a range of stricter rules on charging coming into effect this autumn, hospitals are from 23 October required to recover an estimate of the charges in advance of treatment ‘unless doing so would prevent or delay the provision of immediately necessary or urgent services’.

The guidance says: ‘OVMs should consider establishing formal contacts with local GPs to aid this process, which can be used by them as a useful tool in identifying potential chargeable overseas visitors who have to pay for treatment.’

And, although it adds it is ‘the relevant body’s duty, not the GP’s, to establish entitlement for free NHS hospital treatment’, it says GPs should aid in the process.

The document says: ‘GPs are encouraged to help inform the process of identifying overseas visitors by indicating on referral letters when they understand a patient is not ordinarily resident in the UK, or is an EHIC holder, and inform patients that they may be chargeable for some hospital services.

‘GP surgeries could also be encouraged to display posters regarding entitlement to NHS hospital treatment,’ it adds.

The guidance points out that simply ‘being registered with a GP, or having an NHS number, does not give a person automatic entitlement to access free NHS hospital treatment’.

It advises OVMs to ‘ensure that local GPs understand this so that they do not unintentionally misinform their patients regarding hospital charges and so that where possible they identify in the referral letter any patient that may be an overseas visitor’.

This year’s GP contract introduced a requirement for practices to ‘manually record that the patient holds either a non-UK issued EHIC or a S1 form in the patient’s medical record and then send the form and supplementary questions to NHS Digital (for non-UK issued EHIC cards) or the Overseas Healthcare Team (for S1 forms) via email or post’.

The new guidance says it is ‘yet to be decided’ when this new requirement – for which GPs are set to be reimbursed £5m annually via the contract – will come into force.

Commenting on the guidance, BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said GP practices should stick to what was agreed in the contract.

He said: ‘At a time when we are making clear agreements to reduce the unfunded work shifted from secondary to primary care practices cannot be expected to cope with this additional burden.

‘This is a complex area and it’s for specialist teams in hospitals to do, not GPs or their staff.’