Patients from outside the EU are to be charged 150% of the cost of NHS treatment under plans to crackdown on health tourism, the Government announced today.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has outlined plans for the NHS to recover £300m a year by charging visitors and short-term migrants from outside the European Economic Area an extra £50 on top of every £100 of treatment.
He is also looking at introducing an NHS surcharge for visitors from outside the EEA when they apply to come to the UK for longer than six months, or apply to extend their stay, which could raise as much as £200m a year.
However the BMA has warned that any plans to charge migrants or visitors need to be ‘practical, economic and efficient’ to avoid doctors not having to act as ‘border guards’.
The Department of Health revealed in June that the NHS will receive an extra 25% on top of the cost of every procedure they perform for an EEA migrant or visitor with a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) in a scheme to be introduced this autumn.
It said today that it is also exploring options for ‘recovering the costs’ of primary care services and is pressing ahead with schemes to charge visitors for prescriptions and any services beyond a GP appointment.
The DH said that the non-EEA charging scheme, to be introduced next spring, will be backed by new registration and IT systems, and that ‘financial sanctions’ will be in place for trusts who fail to identify patients to recoup costs from.
Mr Hunt said: ‘We have no problem with international visitors using the NHS as long as they pay for it – just as British families do through their taxes.’
‘These plans will help recoup up to £500 million a year, making sure the NHS is better resourced and more sustainable at a time when doctors and nurses on the frontline are working very hard.’
However BMA chair, Dr Mark Porter, called for more detail about the scheme.
He said: ‘Anyone accessing NHS services should be eligible to do so but a doctor’s duty is to treat the patient that’s in front on them, not to act as border guard. Any plans to charge migrants and short term visitors need to be practical, economic and efficient and must not jeopardise access to healthcare for those who need it.’
‘Without more detail, there are question marks over whether or not these proposals will be workable and if the NHS has the infrastructure and resources necessary to administrate a cost-effective charging system. Plans to fine hospitals who fail to recoup costs would see them punished twice over, to the detriment of other services.’
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