Migrants and overseas visitors are to be charged for using NHS accident and emergency services in England.
The government wants to deter so-called health tourism. It says no one will be turned away - but some will have a bill to pay afterwards. Access to GPs, however, will remain free.
Deputy Political Editor Chris Ship reports:
Health tourism is costing the NHS "billions" according to one high ranking doctor, who disputed government figures on the cost of foreign nationals coming to the UK solely for free healthcare.
Professor Meirion Thomas said he had been supplied with "case studies" of benefit tourism and compiled a costing of all the services used himself, which amounted to "two to three billion pounds".
The senior cancer surgeon was also critical of the services the Government had decided would remain free to all:
– Professor Meirion Thomas
They have already said that GP services are going to be free that is because of the spurious argument of infectious diseases.
HIV is the one that really matters but if you start treatment on HIV today for example, you will still be infectious for 3-6 months until your viral load drops, so it doesn't make sense to change the whole process of entitlement.
Health tourism in A&E is "not a big problem for the NHS" and plans to crackdown on foreign nationals using NHS services is more of "an issue around migration", according to one health expert.
Former NHS Manager Roy Lilley admitted it was not "right to come here and rip off the system" but said health tourism in A&E was "a London centric problem".
Lilley was also sceptical about the practicality of policing health tourism. He told Daybreak:
– Former NHS Manager Roy Lilley
Do you put a chip and pin machine in A&E, which is the harbinger of all kinds of things people really don't want to see in A&E.
How do you turn the doctors and nurses into the border agency? The simplest thing to do with foreign national is to make them sign for whatever health care they get and we send the bill off to the embassy.
Labour has accused the Government of "grand-standing" with its "re-announcement" on charging migrants for the use of some NHS services.
Shadow health minister Lord Hunt said:
Yet again, Ministers are putting spin before substance - their own report undermines the attempts to grab more headlines with this re-announcement. Labour is in favour of improving the recovery of costs from people with no entitlement to NHS treatment.
Rather than more grand-standing, the Government needs to deliver practical, thought through changes to make that happen.
Doctors' leaders have warned the proposed changes to NHS charges for migrants could cost more to administer than they would actually raise.
Dr Mark Porter, the chair of British Medical Association council, said it would also cause confusion among patients while requiring GPs and hospital doctors to spend more time on paperwork and bureaucracy.
"There is particular confusion over access entitlements to emergency care services, given the proposals introduce charging for A&E visits yet say no patient will be turned away if they need care", Dr Porter said.
The Government has proposed changes to the NHS charging regime for migrants and overseas visitors in England.
Under these proposed changes they will:
- Be billed for treatment at A&E units
- Pay for primary care services such as minor surgery carried out by GPs
- Prescription charges will be extended
- Pay higher charges for services such as optical and dental care
Consultations with GPs and nurses will remain free of charge to ensure initial access remains to prevent public health risks such as TB, HIV and sexually transmitted infections.
Health Minister Lord Howe said changes to the NHS charging regime for overseas visitors and migrants "is the first step".
Ministers have said no one will be turned away from an accident and emergency department, but there will be a bill to pay afterwards for those from overseas.
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 hard-working 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 to achieving this.
Overseas visitors and migrants who require accident and emergency treatment from the NHS in England will be charged, the Government has announced.
The move forms part of an extension of the NHS charging regime intended to deter so-called "health tourism" in a bid to recoup up to £500 million a year for the taxpayer.
Under the proposed changes, migrants and overseas visitors will have to pay for primary care services such as minor surgery carried out by GPs, while prescription charges will be extended.
There will also be higher charges for services which are subsidised for patients entitled to free NHS treatment - such as optical and dental care.