In 2010, both the UK Border Agency and the Department of Health carried out consultations on proposals to amend the rules on charging foreign visitors to England for NHS hospital care. The Government has considered the responses and decided to adopt the consultation proposals. NHS measures included in these consultations are aimed at clarifying the current charging regime, and include:
- extending the time that UK residents can spend abroad without losing their automatic entitlement to free hospital treatment (from three months to six months);
- allowing failed asylum seekers to be exempt from charges only if they co-operate with registered Home Office support schemes; and
- guaranteeing free hospital care to children who arrive in England unaccompanied by an adult, while they are under local authority care.
It is clear that failed asylum seekers not on a Home Office support scheme who are simply refusing to return home will continue to be charged.
In addition to these NHS measures, a threshold of £1,000 will be introduced by the UK Border Agency, so that anyone who owes the NHS £1,000 or more will not be allowed to enter or stay in the UK without the debt being paid. The Home Office and Department of Health will be working closely to identify who will be affected by this new rule, but it is anticipated that approximately 95 per cent of outstanding charges owed to the NHS will be caught.
This issue of migrants accessing publicly funded NHS hospital treatment divides opinion, but the Government is keen to ensure foreign nationals do pay for services that they do not qualify for. According to the Department of Health’s press release, “the Government…believe that we should go further…and further measures are needed to provide a balance of fairness and affordability in the provision of NHS treatment of overseas visitors”.
The Government’s response to the consultations can be accessed here.