Hospitals in England will have to check overseas patients’ and migrants’ entitlement to free non-urgent NHS care from April 2017 when new regulations are due to be introduced, the Department of Health has announced.
On 6 February 2017, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement that patients who are not eligible will be expected to pay upfront charges ahead of treatment.
The changes, however, do not affect anyone seeking urgent or immediate or necessary health care, regardless of their entitlement status, the department confirmed.
“We have no problem with overseas visitors using our NHS — as long as they make a fair contribution, just as the British taxpayer does,” Hunt said.
“Today we are announcing plans to change the law which means those who aren’t eligible for free care will be asked to pay upfront for non-urgent treatment.”
The move is part of an ongoing drive by the government to clamp down on so-called ‘health tourism’ — individuals from overseas who visit the UK specifically to access free NHS care.
The government aims to recover £500m a year in NHS fees owed by overseas or migrant patients by the middle of this parliament.
The reforms, which are due to be introduced on 1 April 2017, follow an official government consultation.
The consultation report, also published on 6 February 2017, said: “Whilst overseas visitors can access its services, in order for the NHS to be financially sustainable it is vital they make a fair contribution towards the cost of those services.
“It is therefore our intention to make sure that only people living here and contributing financially to this country will get access to free NHS care.”