Don’t expect doctors to act as border guards, BMA tells government

The British Medical Association (BMA) has warned the government against expecting doctors to act as ‘border guards’ in implementing the Department of Health’s visitor and migrant NHS cost-recovery programme.

Last week the government announced plans to charge some patients from outside Europe using the NHS 150% of the cost of treatment.

The move is part of the new incentives for the NHS to recover costs from visitors and migrants using the NHS. The NHS hopes to recover up to £500 million a year by the middle of the next parliament from treating foreign visitors and migrants.

Under the new scheme, a non-EEA visitor will be charged for their care plus an extra 50 per cent. This means that for a £100 procedure, they could be billed up to £150.

The changes would mean that, while emergency care would continue to be provided up front, non-essential treatments would be withheld if patients were unable to pay in advance.

BMA council chair Mark Porter said question marks remained as to whether the proposals would be viable.

“Anyone accessing NHS services should be eligible to do so but a doctor’s duty is to treat the patient that is in front of them, not to act as border guard,” Mr Porter said. “Any plans to charge migrants and short-term visitors need to be practical, economic and efficient and must not jeopardise access to healthcare for those who need it.”

Mr Porter added that without further details about the new scheme, “there are question marks over whether or not these proposals will be workable and if the NHS has the infrastructure and resources necessary to administrate a cost-effective charging system.”

In its report, the government claims that tightening standards on charging eligible patients will ensure the NHS receives “a fair contribution for the cost of the healthcare it provides to non-UK residents”.

Mr Porter said “it’s vitally important that these proposals don’t have an impact on the care patients receive and that sick and vulnerable patients aren’t deterred from seeking necessary treatment, which can have a knock-on effect on public health.”

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