GPs to vet patients in 'health tourism' crackdown

GPs will be forced to police access to healthcare and impose charges on foreign nationals under plans to be announced this week by the government.

Jeremy Hunt: health tourism crackdown
Jeremy Hunt: health tourism crackdown

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has ordered an audit of the cost to the NHS of use by so-called health tourists.

The DH has confirmed he will announce details of the crackdown on Wednesday, which will include a registration and tracking system. GP practices will be forced to identify patients who do not qualify for free healthcare.

The NHS estimated in 2011/12 that it spent £33m treating foreign nationals, £21m of which was recovered, with £12m written off.

Ministers announced plans to clamp down on health tourism in the Queen’s Speech in May.

GP leaders said then that doctors must not be made responsible for policing access to the NHS. RCGP chairwoman Professor Clare Gerada said: ‘While the health system must not be abused and we must bring an end to health tourism, it is important that we do not overestimate the problem and that GPs are not placed in the invidious position of being the new border agency.’

‘General practice must remain the main access to healthcare within the NHS. GPs have a duty of care to all people seeking healthcare, and should not be expected to police access to healthcare and turn people away when they are at their most vulnerable.’

GPC deputy chairman Richard Vautrey said GPs should not become an 'arm of the immigration service', and warned the 'politically motivated' changes could be an unworkable burden on practices.

'It is important that NHS services are provided to those who are eligible to receive them but GPs also have a professional responsibility to provide immediately necessary care to all patients', said Dr Vautrey.

Mr Hunt told The Observer: 'No one expects health workers to become immigration guards, and we want to work alongside doctors to bring about improvements, but I'm clear we must … protect the NHS from costly abuse.

'We want a system that is fair for the British taxpayer by ensuring foreign nationals pay for NHS treatment. By looking at the scale of the problem and at where improvements can be made, we will help ensure the NHS remains sustainable for many years to come.'

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