Patients with a ‘questionable’ residency status will be issued with a temporary NHS number, under plans being considered by the Department of Health.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt revealed the plans to the Daily Mail, which reported that this is how he wants to fight growing concerns over ‘health tourism’ into the UK.
A Department of Health source told the Daily Mail, practices or hospitals could be given a new ‘obligation’ to check up on patients looking to register with the NHS to make sure they are genuine UK residents.
Options could include checking electoral registers or council tax rolls, with patients granted only emergency care if these checks do not prove permanent residency.
A Pulse survey in January revealed that more than half of GPs believe NHS entitlements for migrants are too generous.
Mr Hunt told the Mail he proposed that anyone with a ‘questionable’ residency status should be issued with only a temporary NHS number.
He said: ‘It is completely unacceptable that people are abusing the NHS and accessing free care they are not entitled to.
‘Changing the way the NHS number is used is just one stage of my plan to shut down free NHS care for those who are not entitled to it.’
A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘We can confirm that we are looking into this idea but cannot comment on any further detail at this time.’
But Dr Peter Swinyard, chair of the Family Doctor Association and a GP in Swindon, commented: ‘It is no place for doctors to be the policemen for the immigration service and he needs to look elsewhere.’