Community, Diaspora and Immigration
UK visitors will be charged by A&E
Immigrants coming to Britain will be charged for emergency treatment on the NHS for the first time as part of a clampdown on health tourism.
Migrants who go to A&E will be billed between £20 and £100 for a consultation, on top of the cost of their treatment – with staff presenting chip-and-pin machines at their bedsides.
The charges are being brought in amid concerns that the NHS has become an ‘international health service’, with foreign patients who are not entitled to care racking up costs of £2billion a year.
Many foreigners travel to the UK specifically for free treatment – yesterday it emerged that in the past two years, 300 heavily pregnant women flew in to Britain through one airport just to give birth in NHS hospitals.Ministers have ruled out making overseas patients pay to see a GP after doctors raised fears this could impact on public health, but migrants will be charged for any follow-up procedures and prescriptions, as well as any care they receive in hospital.
Senior doctors said last night that the plans would cause ‘confusion’ among staff and patients. They said the Government had failed to explain exactly how it would collect the money from foreigners.
Patients may end up being presented with a chip-and-pin machine before they are allowed to leave and if they fail to pay, officials will try to claw the money back from their home country’s government.
The move comes after a report revealed the true cost of health tourism is £2billion a year – up to 100 times higher than some previous estimates. Only 16 per cent is clawed back.
Health minister Lord Howe said: ‘Having a universal health service free at the point of use rightly makes us the envy of the world, but we must make sure the system is fair to the hardworking British taxpayers who fund it.
‘We know that we need to make changes across the NHS to better identify and charge visitors and migrants. Introducing charging at primary care is the first step.’
At present, A&E is free for everyone, along with GP services and treatment for infectious diseases. But foreigners including tourists, illegal immigrants and anyone who has lived here for less than 12 months are meant to pay for hospital treatment, including X-rays and surgery.
In reality, staff fail to recover these costs partly because they have no idea which patients should pay.
Ministers also intend to make foreigners pay a £200 tax when they arrive, just in case they need to use the NHS while here.