The Daily Mail claims that the UK Government has written off £35million of free treatment for ‘health tourists’ and travellers over the last eight years.
General Practitioner (family doctors) or GPs have far too much freedom to register sick foreigners, regardless of visa status, who may not be entitled to expensive British healthcare, campaigners said today.
Anti-immigration pressure group ‘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.’
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.
The 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.’ Source: Daily Mail.
Immigration Matters talked to a GP Practice Manager in Essex, who preferred not to be named, who has dealt with a number of cases of foreign nationals trying to register with her practice.
The idea that a practice simply registers everyone who walks in the door regardless is simply not true, she said.
‘We take our responsibilities seriously and I have refused many people who were on short term visas, however, some have appealed to the PCT which then overruled me and we were forced to register the patient.’
She added that apart from anything else doctors surgeries are over subscribed and ‘bursting at the seams’ due to the large influx of Eastern European patients who, because they are members of the EU, think it’s their ‘right’ and ‘demand to be registered’.
However, many health professionals agree that the system is open to abuse.
A nurse who works in a maternity unit at a leading London teaching hospital did admit that heavily pregnant women from African countries had turned up for the delivery and been treated.
On the other hand, do we really want a U.S. style hospital service which checks your wallet before your pulse?
Meanwhile some EU members from Romania and Bulgaria are forced to take out Comprehensive Sickness Insurance in order to work in the UK, even if they are registered with a GP or hold a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
Bulgarians and Romanians applying for a Yellow Card registration permit (e.g. to work and study full time if they are taking a work-based vocational course such as NVQ or QCF courses in Health and Social Care) need to show evidence of a Comprehensive Sickness Insurance (Private Medical Insurance) policy.
Ironic that whilst EU citizens must take out expensive medical policies to study and work in Britain, non-EU migrants, elderly dependants and Tier 4 students do not need any insurance to come to the UK. And so called ‘health tourists’ can fly in on a UK tourist visa and get free treatment on the NHS.
It’s a MAD world!
If you need any immigration advice or help with Sponsorship or Work Permits, Visa, ILR/Settlement, Citizenship, dependant visa or an appeal against a refusal please email:
Majestic College offer special packages for EU students. They also have a number of employers looking for staff right now and are willing to employ Bulgarians and Romanians.
For more information call Joanna on 0208 207 1020 or email firstname.lastname@example.org