While by law all GP appointments are free to everyone
But a loophole in rules means visitors can avoid the bill by claiming they have lost crucial documents.
In new rules attempting to get a grip on the spiralling costs of health tourism, GPs will have to check whether patients have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) from July.
Issued by their home countries, the card entitles the holder to NHS care on the basis their government pays back the cost.
But the proposal is entirely dependent on patients declaring that have a EHIC card.
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If they have ‘lost’ their card, or were never issued with one, they can tick ‘no’ on the new form which will be handed out to all new patients and receive healthcare for free.
While by law all GP appointments are free to everyone regardless of their nationality, hospital appointments are only free to those who have been residing in the UK for the past six months.
Health tourism is estimated to cost the taxpayer £300 million a year, with Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS in England, saying it was high time the UK was “properly compensated by other countries”.
The proposal is entirely dependent on patients declaring that have a EHIC card
In a report by MPs last month it was revealed the health body only managed to recoup around £49 million from European patients in 2014/15, despite paying out £675 million for UK patients treated in the EU.
A significant number of overseas patients leave hospital after receiving care without being identified as needing to be billed.
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Mr Stevens said: “The principle is that the National Health Service is here for people who are entitled to its care.
The National Health Service is here for people who are entitled to its care
“We should be properly compensated by other countries or other payers.
“People who aren’t entitled to care – doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get that care – but taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for it.
“Traditionally you have been able to get care just because you are here.”
The EHIC card has also been abused by European nationals in the past
The new rules coming into force later this year follow successful pilot schemes at GP where the EHIC card checks were voluntary.
And some 20 hospitals around the UK, including Kings College Hospital in London, have been trialling asking people to bring ID to their first outpatient appointment.
Varying between hospitals, some have demanded to see at least two forms of ID, including bank statements or utility bills.
Health tourism is estimated to cost the taxpayer £300 million a year
And those who cannot provide them were informed they would still be treated but would also be handed a bill for their care.
The EHIC card has also been abused by European nationals in the past who obtained them in the UK – despite intended for British citizens – then traveled around Europe and presented it whenever they needed treatment.
The NHS was then billed for their care as it was assumed they were British citizens.