Legislation to ensure overseas visitors are charged for NHS treatment – including GP appointments – will be introduced over the next session of parliament, the Queen announced on Wednesday.
The new bill, revealed in the Queen’s Speech 2016, is intended to clamp down on patients from overseas receiving treatment ‘at public expense’.
The speech also reiterated that the government will 'work to deliver NHS services over seven days of the week in England'.
RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker warned that GPs should be allowed to care for people who needed them, without being expected to ‘police the system or prevent people from getting medical help’.
She said: ‘We are disappointed and frustrated that despite our concerns and persistent opposition, plans are being forced through to start charging overseas visitors for GP care.
‘This fundamentally changes one of the founding principles of the NHS – that care is delivered free at the point of need.
‘We question how cost-effective this legislation will be given that the government’s own impact assessment found that, even in the best case scenario, economic benefits for the health service would be minimal. It would also be a very real public health risk to have people living with potentially contagious diseases, because they are deterred from seeking healthcare because of cost.
‘The college recognises that the NHS must not be abused and measures need to be taken to tackle health tourism, but doctors have a duty of care to all people seeking healthcare and must not be expected to police the system or prevent people from getting medical help when they are at their most vulnerable.
‘General practice is under intense resource and workforce pressure, but charging patients for appointments is not the answer.
‘NHS England’s recent GP Forward View is a lifeline for general practice with the promise of more funding, more GPs and other practice staff over the course of this parliament. Efforts should concentrate on making these proposals a reality, not implementing legislation that will have little benefit for our profession or our patients.’
The Queen said during the speech: ‘My government will continue work to deliver NHS services over seven days of the week in England. Legislation will be introduced to ensure that overseas visitors pay for the health treatment they receive at public expense.’
She added: ‘Action will also be taken to ensure better mental health provision for individuals in the criminal justice system.’