Tough action on cards to tackle health tourism
21st March 2011: Anyone owing the NHS £1,000 or more will not be allowed to come or stay in the UK until the debt is paid off.
The measure is one of the many steps the Government is taking to tackle “health tourism”. With this, it is clear that the government is all set to toughen its stand on charging overseas visitors for NHS hospital care.
Besides this, a small number of failed asylum seekers co-operating on registered Home Office support schemes will be exempt from charges. Excluded are failed asylum seekers refusing to return home. Also, guarantee free hospital treatment will be provided to unaccompanied children, while under local authority care.
Elaborating, the UK Border Agency said: Tough action to tackle health tourism was promised today, following the publication of two consultations on charging overseas visitors for NHS hospital care.
`The UK Border Agency and Department of Health consultations follow a 2009 review that set out to examine the rules on charging overseas visitors for access to NHS services in England.
`NHS measures for England include extending the time UK residents can spend abroad without losing their automatic entitlement to free hospital treatment from 3 months to 6 months; allowing the small number of failed asylum seekers co-operating on registered Home Office support schemes to be exempt from charges (but not other failed asylum seekers who refuse to return home); and guarantee free hospital treatment for unaccompanied children while under local authority care.
`As part of the Home Office measures for the UK, anyone owing the NHS £1,000 or more will not be allowed to come or stay in the UK until the debt is paid off. It is hoped the £1,000 threshold, which will be implemented later this year, will capture 94 per cent of outstanding charges owed to the NHS’.
The UKBA added: `To enforce this action, the NHS will provide information to enable UK Border Agency to identify the debtors when they make their application to return or stay in the UK.
Public Health Minister Anne Milton said: `The NHS has a duty to anyone whose life or long-term health is at immediate risk, but we cannot afford to become an international health service, providing free treatment for all.
‘These changes will begin the process of developing a clearer and fairer system of access to free NHS services which our review of the charging system will complete. I want to see a system which maintains the confidence of the public, while preventing inappropriate free access and continuing our commitment to human rights and protecting vulnerable groups’.
Immigration Minister Damian Green added: ‘The NHS is a national health service, not an international one. If someone does not pay for their treatment we will not let them back into the country. We need robust controls to protect our public services.’