From April new laws will place a responsibility on hospitals to charge foreign patients before any care is given.
The move aims to cut the widespread abuse of the system by foreign nationals who come to the country for medical help they would have to pay for in their home countries.
It will be left to hospital managers to determine the best way of proving eligibility but this is likely to include asking to see identity documents.
A crackdown on health tourists could save £500million a year
The Government’s health commissioners will be able to audit and then withhold payments from those health trusts which do not comply with the new regulations.
It’s a national, not an international health service and if budgets are tight abuse needs to be stamped out
John O’Connell – Taxpayers’ Alliance
John O’Connell, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “It’s absolutely right that the Government is taking further steps to ensure that only those entitled to care free at the point of use on the NHS can receive it.
“It’s a national, not an international health service and if budgets are tight abuse needs to be stamped out.”
People wanting treatment such as a hip operation or cataract removal could be turned away unless they agree to pay the NHS bill.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said overseas visitors using our NHS need to ‘make a fair contribution’
Those needing urgent care will still be treated immediately but will be told that they will be expected to pay and the bill can be issued before the patient is discharged.
Some hospitals are already using hand-held card readers so patients can pay their bill with a credit or debit card while still on the ward.
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Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said yesterday: “We have no problem with overseas visitors using our NHS – as long as they make a fair contribution, just as the British taxpayer does.
It will be left to hospital managers to determine the best way of proving eligibility
“We aim to recover up to £500million a year by the middle of this Parliament, money that can then be reinvested in patient care.”
The announcement comes in the wake of growing concern from ministers, NHS Trusts and taxpayers about overseas patients abusing the NHS. Dr Kathy McLean, executive medical director at NHS Improvement, said: “This new approach will mean that more money is available to the NHS to care for patients and to continue to provide world-class facilities.
“However, this won’t change the fact that, in an emergency, everyone will still have access to the urgent care they need.
Those needing urgent care will still be treated immediately
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“We’re working with providers to help them improve how they manage cost recovery so we can make sure the NHS gets paid for the work it does.”
Under the plans, anyone from outside the European Economic Area who is staying in the UK for longer than six months will also not be eligible for free fertility treatment.
Exemptions will remain in place for the treatment of infectious diseases and refugees and asylum seekers will continue to receive free care.