Charging overseas patients for GP visits may cause confusion and put patients at risk, says BMA

Plans to charge overseas patients for some GP services could put patients off seeking care and lead to confusion and bureaucracy for practices, the BMA has warned.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has claimed introducing charges for non-EU patients could save up to £500m.

Under plans set out in a DH consultation that begins on Monday, GP and nurse consultations would remain free of charge, but 'overseas visitors and migrants' would face charges for a specific list of primary care services services - physiotherapy, blood tests, lung function tests, prescriptions, dental treatment, eye care costs.

But GP leaders hit out at the plans, warning they could put patients at risk.

Patient safety

BMA chairman Dr Mark Porter said: 'It is important that anyone accessing NHS services is entitled to do so, especially as the health service is under intense pressure from a combination of rising patient demand and falling resources. However, the government’s proposals could create unintended drawbacks for the NHS and patients.

'Not only will this arrangement cause confusion among patients, it will also require GPs and hospital doctors to spend more time on the paperwork and bureaucracy needed to regulate these charges. This could mean the administration of the new system could end up costing more to run than it collects in revenue.

'Most importantly, there is a real risk that some migrants and short-term visitors who desperately need care could be discouraged from approaching the NHS if they cannot pay the charges. There could be particular confusion over access entitlements to emergency care services, given the proposals introduce charging for A&E visits yet say no patient will be turned away if they need care. Similarly, while patients won't have to pay for GP appointments they may have to pay for follow up tests and treatment.

'We cannot have a situation where any patient with a serious health need is deterred from seeing a doctor, especially if their condition raises a potential public health risk.'

GP charges

Mr Hunt said: 'We want to make sure that everyone makes a fair contribution to services, by extending charging to make sure visitors pay for the care they receive.

'This government was the first to introduce tough measures to clamp down on migrants accessing the NHS and these changes will recover up to £500m per year to put back into frontline patient care.'

Click here to respond to the DH consultation on charging

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