The NHS and Health bodies will have to take the details of patients from outside Europe and pass them to immigration services to ensure they pay their bills.
Migrants who run up debts of more than £1,000 will be kicked out of the country if they try to return or extend visas in a restriction of the current “generous” system.
However failed asylum seekers and athletes, officials and journalists attending the London Olympic Games have been guaranteed free hospital care.
Under further options now being considered, foreigners could be charged for visiting a GP or forced to take out health insurance.
The Immigration Minister, Damian Green, said: “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.”
Currently, NHS care is free for residents of England but EU residents also qualify for the same treatment.
GPs can register anyone as patient, entitling them to free primary care, but for any treatment apart from A&E hospitals are meant to check eligibility before looking after foreigners and then recover costs from them afterwards.
As a result, only £40m a year is recovered from “visitors”, with “at least a further 25 per cent (over £10m) of charges raised… written off each year”.
According to a Department of Health paper published on Friday: “The widespread availability of high-quality healthcare that is free at the point of access creates a risk that some visitors deliberately access healthcare without paying, known as ‘health tourism’.”
Two separate consultations by the Department of Health and the UK Border Agency agree to implement a tougher regime for foreigners seeking treatment in England.
From October, those who have run up debts of £1,000 or more “will normally be refused” if they apply to return to Britain, try to extend leave to remain or apply for citizenship. It is believed this will cover 94 per cent of the outstanding charges owed to the health service.
The Department of Health agreed that failed asylum seekers, unaccompanied non-resident children and anyone involved in the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics will not be charged for care.
However it also said that hospitals must collect details of foreign patients so they can be chased for payment, and that they can be passed to the immigration services and the NHS Counter Fraud Service.
A further “fundamental review” of the policy will look at whether British residents could be allowed to spend up to six months a year out of the country, rather than the current three, yet still qualify for free NHS care.
It will also look at “the case for extending current charging principles to primary care” and “additional methods of securing recovery of treatment costs including options for requiring health insurance”.
Anne Milton, the Public Health Minister, said: “These changes will begin the process of developing a clearer, robust 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.” Source: Daily Telegraph
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