NHS foreign care Q&A: how will government save £500m?
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt hopes to save money by charging temporary immigrants a £200 fee
UP TO £500m a year could be saved by reducing money spent on foreign patients using the NHS, ministers have claimed. The Department of Health today published a study showing how widely the NHS is used by people from overseas. Ministers are now consulting on the measures it will take to tackle the issue, from charging foreigners a fee for healthcare to deterring so-called 'health tourists'...
What does the government currently spend?
According to today's report, the government spends £2bn a year on NHS care for short-term immigrants and foreign visitors. Around £461m is spent on foreign nationals visiting the UK who should be paying for the healthcare through their own governments. However, NHS currently only recovers around £73m of this as these patients are often not processed and charged. Around £70m to £300m is believed to be spent on 'health tourists' – people who come to the UK specifically to receive free healthcare. Ministers have said that a £500m saving is a realistic target as some of the spending, such as emergency care and the treatment of infectious diseases, is unavoidable.
How would the new system be administered?
The government wants to introduce a surcharge for foreigners as part of the new Immigration Bill, which is being debated by Parliament today. By charging a levy of £150 for foreign students and £200 for other temporary migrants, ministers hope to generate £200m a year. They also want to identify a more efficient system to claim back costs from other countries. They plan to do this by establishing a cost recovery unit and introducing a simpler registration process to help identify patients who should be charged. By clawing back costs from other governments, generating money through the surcharge and deterring health tourists, the government hopes to save half a billion pounds.
How much is £500m worth to the NHS?
With an overall NHS budget of £95.6bn for 2013/14, £500m equates to around 0.5 per cent of the annual budget - equivalent to around two days' worth of spending. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that even if only 75 per cent of £500m was recovered, it would pay for almost 4,000 doctors or more than 8,500 nurses each year.
Are the numbers correct?
Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has claimed the figures used by the government were "out of date" and that it was important to look at "the small print behind the spin". The report itself points out that estimates for health tourism are "impossible to estimate with confidence". Burnham also told the BBC that Labour would not support a situation where "doctors and nurses were being asked to work as surrogate immigration officials". ·