Charging immigrants to use NHS ‘not likely to be money spinner’

By Ian Dipple Friday 17 January 2014 Updated: 17/01 10:59

CHARGING immigrants to use the NHS in Worcestershire is unlikely to raise thousands of pounds for the county’s hospitals.

Penny Venables, chief executive of Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, also voiced concerns over how the Government’s plans to introduce charging for foreigners would work in reality.

Ministers are proposing to make residents from outside the EU pay a levy or have health insurance or other means, before they can access NHS services.

There would also be an end to free primary care for all visitors and tourists and the Department of Health will be more rigorous in claiming back money from the home countries of EU patients.

Immigrants will also be charged for using A&E, although no-one will be turned away for treatment but presented with a bill afterwards. Detailed proposals of how the charges are to be implemented will be set out later this year.

The move is a bid to end so-called health tourism and claw back about £500million a year for the NHS.

But figures show treating non-UK residents takes up only a small proportion of the Trust’s £330million plus budget.

Between November 2012 and October last year caring for non-UK patients outside the EU cost the Trust £22,870 for which people are individually charged and £43,231 for those within the EU, which is claimed back from their home countries.

Mrs Venables said the issue was greater in major cities such as neighbouring Birmingham but while she supported the principle of non-UK residents having to pay for their treatment, it was a complex area.

“People are welcome to come here for treatment and have babies but they need to pay,” she said.

“We have looked into this in Worcestershire and because they are mainly fruit pickers from the EU they are already entitled so it’s unlikely to make a massive difference to our finances.”

Dr Mark Porter, chair of the British Medical Association Council, warned administering the system could end up costing more than was actually being reclaimed and tie up doctors and nurses with more paperwork.

But 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 hardworking British taxpayers who fund it.”

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