Advertisement

Many questions remain over the Government's plans to tackle 'health tourism'

Overseas visitors and migrants who require NHS accident and emergency treatment in England are to be charged, the Government has announced. Photo: PA Wire

Today's announcement on the problem of so-called 'health tourism' doesn't take us much further than when the government last said it was going to do something about it.

In October, the Department of Health announced a review after concluding the NHS was spending £2 billion each year on treating foreign nationals.

It claimed the health service could save as much as £500 million by charging those migrants for some services.

All we learn today is that access to GPs services for non residents will remain free for public health reasons (avoiding the unnecessary spread of tuberculosis or HIV).

Visitors and migrants will be charged for minor surgery by GPs and prescriptions as well as A&E services.

What we still don't know however is HOW these charges will be recouped.

How will the NHS charge for services if the patients refuses to pay? How will it deal with family members of UK residents coming to the UK and registering with a GP to access NHS services? Will it cost NHS more in additional administration than it would recoup in charges?

The details, we are told, will be announced in March when ministers set out their plans for dealing with the costs of 'health tourism'.

But remember, none of this applies to visitors or migrants from Europe. Any resident of the EEA (European Economic Area) is entitled to free treatment in the NHS - as UK nationals are entitled to similar free treatment in those countries.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has pledged to tackle health tourism in the UK Credit: Press Association

In fact, that applies to any nation with which the UK has a reciprocal agreement, which includes countries like Australia.

So it begs the question: what IS the government announcing today?

And it leads you to the conclusion that, once again, ministers are trying to look tough on immigration at a time when there is a lot of concern about the lifting of restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians in two days time.

The same Romanians and Bulgarians who, as members of the EEA, will be entitled to free treatment in any part of the NHS.