On the 3rd of October a report entitled “Quantitative Assessment of Visitor and Migrant use of the NHS in England: Exploring the data” was commissioned by the Department of Health. This report estimated that the cost to the NHS from its use by overseas visitors and migrants was at around £2bn a year, and up to £500m of this cost could be recovered.
At the moment, free NHS treatment is available to non- EEA migrants who are permanent residents or migrants who have lived in the UK for one year. Visitors to the UK or migrants who have temporary permission to live here (i.e. ‘limited leave to remain‘) may be able to register with a GP and receive free treatment, but it is up to the GP”s discretion whether they register a temporary migrant. In reality, the Health Secretary states that temporary migrants have up to now been able to receive NHS numbers and receive unlimited free healthcare.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the BBC that he wants to see migrants who are not entitled to free NHS care making a fair contribution towards their healthcare in the UK if not by paying taxes, by paying charges. He assures that anyone needing emergency medical treatment will be treated, however has also stated that he intends to impose a levy on non- EEA migrants of £200 a year. Whilst Mr Hunt has said that he does not intend to turn GPs into “border guards,” he does intend to put a system into place to reduce the abuse of the NHS by “health tourists” and temporary visitors to the UK.
Therefore, from now on, GPs will be required to check that people seeking to register with them are here legally and permanently, and will issue only time-limited, “NHS numbers” (the proof of entitlement to free care) to those who do not have a permanent right to be in the country. The idea is that people with temporary NHS numbers who do not have the right to stay permanently will then have to pay a contribution to their healthcare or the UK will, through a reciprocal agreement with the migrant”s home country, reclaim the cost of care from that other country. Historically, the NHS has not been very good at “clawing back” money from migrants home countries and it is hoped that this new process will facilitate this.
However, many are already criticizing the scheme saying that it will add to the administrative burden on the NHS and GP Surgeries who are already under a great deal of strain. Further, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association’s GPs committee, said the government’s estimated £500m worth of savings figure was “exaggerated,” partly because it did not take account of the administrative cost of putting checks in place. Dr Nagpaul also said that doctors should not be distracted from their work in order to check the eligibility of patients for treatment. Dr Clare Gerada, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, has echoed this sentiment saying it is imperative that GPs are not tasked with being a ‘new border agency’ in policing the NHS. She also stated that there was a real risk of deterring people from seeking medical help at the early stages of an illness when it can be dealt with cost-effectively, rather than requiring specialist/emergency care at a later stage.
Unfortunately the changes mean that for many migrants living in the UK for up to 5 years who do not have permanent residency but are already paying taxes, there will be a double levy – £200 a year for healthcare, plus their standard tax contributions.
If you have any questions or queries about the changes to UK immigration rules please contact us or call 0207 0012121.