'The world health service': 'Lax' NHS open to abuse from foreigners, campaigners warn
Government has written off 35million of free treatment for health tourists over the last eight years
08:13 GMT, 30 April 2012
No national standard: Mr Burns admittecd it was up to each GP whether to register a foreign national on a six-month visitor's visa
GPs have too much freedom to register sick foreigners who may not be entitled to expensive British healthcare, campaigners said today.
Migration Watch UK claimed family doctors could decide whether to take on patients without identity documents and give them free treatment which should not be available to them.
The revelation follows a written Parliamentary answer from Health Minister Simon Burns admitting there was no formal requirement for foreigners to provide documentation when registering with a GP.
Mr Burns said: 'A decision on whether to register a foreign national who has a six-month visitor's visa is therefore currently for the GP to consider.'
Migration Watch chairman Sir Andrew Green said today: 'What this means is that someone getting off a plane with a valid visitor's visa is in effect able to access the GP services of the NHS without ever having paid a penny into the system.
'Once registered with a GP it is, in practice, an easy step to potentially highly-expensive and long term treatment – all at the expense of the UK taxpayer with little or no prospect of the beneficiaries ever being charged for it.'
Sir Andrew said it was not for doctors to 'act as an arm of the immigration service' and warned of 'clear and substantial risks of abuse in such a lax system'.
He added: 'The present situation is outrageous. Everyone knows the pressure the NHS is under and its ever increasing cost to the taxpayer.
'To allow such easy and potentially hugely-expensive access without any entitlement must be stopped at once, otherwise the NHS risks becoming the World Health Service.'
Simon Burns said the Government was reviewing current health arrangements for overseas visitors
Last year, Simon Burns revealed that health tourists have taken at least 35million of free treatment over the last eight years.
That is the sum health service bosses
have written off after foreign patients came to the UK for treatment –
and left without paying.
Department of Health is still trying to recover millions more from
thousands of others who have abused British hospitality, so the real
figure could be far higher.
Entitlement to free NHS hospital treatment is based on a patient being ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK.
Anyone else will be charged for the full cost of any treatment they receive unless an exemption applies to the particular therapy.
While treatment in an accident and emergency department is automatically free to all, emergency care elsewhere is not. However urgent treatment, such as maternity care, will always be given regardless of residence status or ability to pay afterwards.
UK Border Agency officials see 150 cases a year at Gatwick Airport of heavily pregnant passengers arriving with visitor visas.
Last year the Home Office and Department of Health admitted the existing system 'is still too complex, generous and inconsistently applied.'
They promised stricter checks to make sure the details of overseas patients are properly recorded so hospitals can recover any debt.
Also those visitors who have run up 1,000 or more in medical debts will not be allowed back into the country.
However, the decision as to whether visitors should be charged for GP services and other NHS services outside of hospitals is still under review.
Mr Burns said: 'We won't tolerate abuse of our National Health Service. The NHS has a duty to anyone whose life or long-term health is at immediate risk but it is not there to serve the health needs of the globe.
'There are comprehensive rules and procedures to charge visitors for hospital treatment but we know that the system needs to be improved.
'That is why we are currently reviewing those arrangements to prevent inappropriate free access to the NHS and provide a fairer, more balanced system.'