Doctors fear being new border agency in crackdown on NHS tourism

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Loopholes that allow migrants to wrongly access free UK health care will be closed under a crackdown on abuse of public services next week, Jeremy Hunt will announce.

The NHS bill for treating tourists, estimated to be up to £200m, 
will also be tackled as part
of reforms being outlined by
he Health Secretary on Wednesday.

Ex-pats, who currently face paying for care if they live permanently overseas, are set to be given guaranteed access to free NHS healthcare, but only once they have paid 10 years of national insurance contributions.

The changes are part of a government wide push to cut down on abuse of British services but doctors warned they feared being turned into a “form of immigration control”.

Mr Hunt will launch a consultation on introducing a tracking system that would mean a patient’s NHS number is linked to their immigration status.

Plans to charge for GP services for people not eligible for free care are also being considered.

It comes after Prime Minister David Cameron said earlier this year that immigrants cannot expect “something for nothing” in the UK.

The new Immigration Bill, introduced during the Queen’s Speech in May, outlined plans for incomers’ accessing NHS services to make a contribution to the cost of their care, either with their own money or through their government.

Mr Hunt said: “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 all work together to protect the NHS from costly abuse.

“We want a system that is fair for the British taxpayer by ensuring that foreign nationals pay for their NHS treatment.

“By looking at the scale of the problem and at where and how improvements can be made we will help ensure the NHS remains sustainable for many years to come.”

The proposals include tightening up systems for claiming back the cost of treating thousands of European visitors every year from their home country.

An audit will be launched into how much overseas patients and short-term residents cost the health service.

Around £33m went on the treatment of foreign nationals in hospitals in 2011/12, of which around £12m was written off.

According to Department of Health research, less than half of overseas visitors using hospitals are identified and only half of their costs are recovered, but officials pointed to a 2003 report by insurers CCI that put the cost at between £50m and £200m.

The Royal College of General Practitioners warned against introducing reforms that could put doctors in an “invidious position of being the new border agency”.

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