Ministers to charge migrants for NHS services
MINISTERS have been warned that plans to charge “health tourists” for NHS services could leave the most vulnerable in our society at risk.
Under the proposed changes, migrants and overseas visitors will have to pay for primary care such as minor surgery carried out by GPs. But critics believe this could prevent Brits living in poverty taking their children to a doctor when they need it. Lucy Jones, manager of Doctors Of The World’s clinic in east London, said: “More barriers will only make it harder for the most vulnerable to access vital healthcare, including pregnant women who could be too frightened to go to A&E. “We are particularly concerned about the impact on children. Parents may feel unable to take their sick child to A&E because of fears they won’t be able to pay. “Doctors and nurses should be focusing on treating the sick, not checking everyone’s status to see whether they should be charged.”
The new charges come amid fears that the ending of restrictions on migrants from Bulgaria and Romania on January 1 will see a major influx of immigrants, putting additional strain on the NHS and other public services. The move is part of an extension of the NHS charging regime in England intended to deter so-called “health tourism”. No one will be turned away from an A&E department in an emergency, but there will be a bill to pay afterwards for those from overseas. Consultations with GPs and nurses will remain free of charge to prevent public health risks such as TB, HIV and sexually transmitted infections. Details of the scheme are still being worked out, and ministers say they will publish a full implementation plan in March.
Health Minister Lord Howe said: “Having a universal health service free at the point of use rightly makes us the envy of the world, but we must make sure the system is fair to the hard-working British taxpayers who fund it. “We know that we need to make changes across the NHS to better identify and charge visitors and migrants. Introducing charging at primary care is the first step to achieving this.” But some believe the focus on immigration will stop GP’s being able to do their job properly.
Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, spokeswoman for the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “We still need reassurances that GPs are not going to be pressed into acting as an arm of the Border Agency and we remain unconvinced that the proposals will work across the NHS. “GPs have a duty of care to all people seeking healthcare and cannot be expected to police the system or prevent people from getting medical help when they are at their most vulnerable. “We must be allowed to get on with our proper job of caring for patients, not form-filling and acting as a quasi form of immigration control.”