Posted on Mar 22, 2011 by Sergio Ulloa
A series of new reports issued by both the UK Border Authority and the Department of Health outline plans the British government will take to ban foreigners from entry to Britain if they have previously amassed debts of £1,000 or more with NHS run hospitals.
The measures are designed to reduce the £10 million in revenue thought to be lost each year through deliberate temporary migration to and access of another state's subsidized medical services without payment, also known as 'health tourism.'
NHS healthcare is currently free at point of access for residents of the United Kingdom as well as members of other EU nations who qualify through reciprocal agreements. British GPs may elect to register any person as an NHS patient, leading many visitors to receive free primary care including licensed prescriptions. Access to secondary and more advanced care is supposedly subject to more screening and rules of entry, but in practice few are denied care or charged. Overall the NHS is seen as a more accommodating health service than many other countries, including accident & emergency treatment and full healthcare exemptions for overseas students and employees. The new health report concurs: "entitlement to free healthcare is considerably more generous to visitors and short-term residents than is reciprocated for UK citizens seeking treatment in other countries."
While the Department of Health acknowledges the humanitarian duties the NHS must uphold in meeting the immediate medical needs of any person, they acknowledge that "there is also an obligation to the public purse to protect the NHS's finite resources." As a result of the current system only £40 million a year is recovered from "visitors", with "at least a further 25 per cent (over £10m) of charges raised are not recovered and written off each year."
To close this funding gap, The Department of Health and UK Border Authority have both carried out separate consultations and now agree that tougher rules for foreigners seeking medical treatment in the United Kingdom must be implemented.
As a result of these consultations, the UK Border Agency has decided to implement a change to immigration rules. Starting in October 2011, those who fail to settle debts to the NHS of £1,000 or more will "normally be refused permission to enter or remain in the UK." Non payments above £1000 currently represent 94% of all outstanding costs to the NHS.
The Department of Health has stipulated that failed asylum seekers (who comply with Home Office support schemes), unaccompanied non-resident children and persons involved in the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics will not be subject to charge for healthcare.
In order to implement this new health care cost-recovery policy, NHS Trusts will record details about patients from outside Europe and communicate more closely with immigration services to identify debtors when they make their application to return or stay in the UK. Personal medical records, however, will not be shared.
Immigration Minister Damian Green pledged: "The NHS is a national health service not an international one. If someone does not pay for their treatment we will not let them back into the country."
A further comprehensive review of the current health system will analyze whether treatment costs could be covered through extending user fees to primary care services or whether to introduce a health insurance requirement for non-EU visitors. Additional reforms considered include an increase in time UK residents can spend abroad without losing their free healthcare entitlement, up from three to six months.
The Department of Health concludes that: "while the immediate actions to introduce immigration sanctions for debtors seeking to return to the UK will help to reduce levels of unrecovered debt, wider ranging actions are needed."
While the NHS looks to cut down on abusive foreign patients, the growth of a global network of high quality medical services is legitimate. The substantial development of the global economy coupled with the falling costs of travel and communication has enabled world class medical practices to establish themselves all around the world. International clients seeking alternative healthcare solutions to their home countries at competitive prices now are presented with many opportunities.
Popular locations for medical travel include countries in South East Asia and Latin America, where many surgery procedures, including transplants, cost a fraction of the price they would do in North America or Western Europe and usually offer shorter waiting lists for treatment. The convenience and efficiency of pursuing international healthcare options is something to be considered for patients seeking to fully evaluate their future health procedures.