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Three-quarters of GPs support upfront charges for foreign visitors accessing care

Exclusive More than three quarters of GPs are in favour of charging foreign visitors for accessing primary care, a Pulse survey has revealed.

Out of the 515 GPs who responded, 394 (77%) said they support upfront charges for foreign visitors wanting to access primary care, with only 14% coming out against it.

The findings come as Pulse revealed the DH is set to launch consultations aimed at exploring ways of clawing back money from overseas visitors who use GP services – although it has not yet confirmed it will include directly charging overseas visitors.

The Pulse survey revealed that GPs are behind the Government’s efforts to bring more money in from what the DH has labelled ‘health tourism’.

Several respondents said that UK citizens have to pay to access care abroad, so this should be reciprocal.

Dr Zishan Syed, a GP in Maidstone, Kent, said: ‘It is a sad reality but there is abuse of the NHS by foreign visitors.  It is only fair that they pay upfront if they are not entitled to free care on the NHS. The NHS is in trouble and it is only right that the Government stops anyone from taking advantage of a system that is already under immense pressure.’

Dr Niall Finegan, a GP in Salford, said: ‘We do not get free care abroad.’

But Dr Sanjeev Juneja, a GP in Rochester, Kent, said: ‘It will discourage genuine tourists and the tourist industry losses may be higher than gains from incidental savings on health tourists.’

And Dr Kailash Chaand, deputy chair of the BMA, said: ‘Quite a significant majority of GPs for as long as I have known have supported charging foreign visitors for NHS care. They see this as one of the solutions for the demand. It is understandable.

‘But I think they are mistaken. I believe in universal health care. If they bring in these charges, where do you stop? This will be counterproductive.’

This month, the Government announced it was to pilot schemes involving GP practices in ten areas asking all new patients if they have a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which entitles them to access primary care and certain secondary care treatment without an upfront charge.

It said that patients will not be charged as part of the pilot scheme.

The GPC is working with the DH on the plans and the GPC said the aim of the pilot will be to get GPs used to asking for EHIC cards routinely. 

Last year, the Government shelved a suggestion for charging non-EEA migrants a £200-500 levy upon entry to the UK, or when they went to renew their visa, after admitting it would probably cost more in administration costs than it would recover in charges.

When the plan for a levy was first mooted in 2013, 55% of GPs responding to a Pulse survey said they were in favour of the Government’s plans.

Survey results in full

Do you support upfront charges for foreign visitors wanting to access primary care?

Yes – 394 (77%)

No – 74 (14%)

Don’t know – 47 (9%)

The survey launched on 9 February 2015, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. The 37 questions covered a wide range of GP topics, to avoid selection bias on one issue. The survey was advertised to readers via our website and email newsletter, with a prize draw for a Samsung HD TV as an incentive to complete the survey. Some 515 GPs answered these questions.