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Tougher rules for overseas visitor access to NHS

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Tougher rules for overseas visitor access to NHS
Posted on: March 21 2011, 10:02 am

Government publishes consultation responses

Action to establish a more balanced charging regime for overseas visitors, including tackling health tourism was promised today by Public Health Minister Anne Milton following publication of two consultations on charging overseas visitors for NHS hospital care.

The Department of Health and Home Office consultations followed a 2009 review that set out to examine the rules on charging overseas visitors for access to NHS services in England.  The Government has decided to adopt the consultation proposals but believe that we should go further. The limited remit of the consultation does not go far enough and further measures are needed to provide a balance of fairness and affordability in the provision of NHS treatment for overseas visitors.

The Home Office measures for the UK include:

    * Anyone owing the NHS £1,000 or more will not be allowed to come or stay in the UK until the debt is paid off. It is hoped the £1000 threshold, which will be implemented later this year will capture 94 per cent of outstanding charges owed to the NHS.

To enforce this action, which will help to reduce health tourism, the NHS will provide information to the UK Border Agency to enable it to identify the debtors when they make their application to return or stay in the UK.

NHS measures for England include:

    * Extending the time UK residents can spend abroad without losing their automatic entitlement to free hospital treatment from three months to six months;
    * Allowing the small number of failed asylum seekers co-operating on registered Home Office support schemes to be exempt from charges (but not other failed asylum seekers who refuse to return home); and
    * Guarantee free hospital treatment for unaccompanied children while under local authority care.

The need for a further review

The previous review and consultation did not go far enough. The existing system is still too complex, generous and inconsistently applied. While the NHS remains committed to providing immediate or necessary care, it is important that a balance of fairness and affordability is also struck.

A full review of the rules and practice will now be undertaken and will consider:

    * qualifying residency criteria for free treatment;
    * the full range of other current criteria that exempt particular services or visitors from charges for their treatment;
    * whether visitors should be charged for GP services and other NHS services outside of hospitals;
    * establishing more effective and efficient processes across the NHS to screen for eligibility and to make and recover charges; and
    * whether to introduce a requirement for health insurance tied to visas.

Access for European Union residents is determined by separate EU regulations. The review will not consider changes to these regulations.

Anne Milton said:

“The NHS has a duty to anyone whose life or long-term health is at immediate risk, but we cannot afford to become an international health service, providing free treatment for all.

“These changes will begin the process of developing a clearer, robust and fairer system of access to free NHS services which our review of the charging system will complete. I want to see a system which maintains the confidence of the public while preventing inappropriate free access and continuing our commitment to human rights and protecting vulnerable groups."

Damian Green, Immigration Minister said:

“The NHS is a national health service not an international one. If someone does not pay for their treatment we will not let them back into the country.

“We need robust controls to protect our public services.”


Notes to Editors:

   1. For more information please contact the DH newsdesk on 020 7210 5221
   2. For more information on the change to immigration rules contact Home Office newsdesk on 020 7035 3535
   3. The full consultation response can be accessed via the link below
   4. The new review is expected to complete in late autumn and the proposals will then be consulted upon.
   5. The UK has an international obligation to provide free NHS treatment to those seeking asylum here under the UN Convention on human rights. We will continue to fulfil this obligation.

    * Access to the NHS by foreign nationals - Government response to the consultation

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