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Foreigners 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.
There is also concern that British patients will be wrongly charged if they cannot prove their nationality – or that the critically ill will be deterred from seeking help because they cannot afford to pay.
The fees will be introduced next year and the Department of Health has promised to publish further details on how the new system will work in March.
It is thought that patients will be charged between £20 and £100 for an initial consultation – depending on their condition – in addition to the price of any further treatment, scans or operations.
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.’
The flow of West African women flying in to give birth for free in London was so common it was referred to by staff as the ‘Lagos Shuttle'”.
– Professor J. Meirion Thomas
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.
Professor J Meirion Thomas, of the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, said the flow of West African women flying in to give birth for free at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, in London, was so common it was referred to by staff as the ‘Lagos Shuttle’.
It was reported yesterday that in just two years at Gatwick, border officials stopped more than 300 foreign women ‘arriving in an advanced stage of pregnancy who evidently intend to access NHS maternity services’.
Dr Mark Porter, of the British Medical Association, warned that the fees would create ‘unintended drawbacks’ and ‘confusion’ for patients and staff.
He added: ‘There remains a real risk that some migrants and short-term visitors who desperately need care could be discouraged from approaching the NHS if they cannot pay the proposed charges.’
Shadow health minister Lord Philip Hunt accused the Government of putting ‘spin before substance’ by not explaining how the system will work.
He added: ‘This out-of-touch Government is asking doctors and nurses to act as surrogate immigration officials.’
– Daily Mail