In Brief

NHS to charge 'health tourists' for non-urgent care

Jeremy Hunt announces new plan forcing hospitals to check patient eligibility for free services

NHS trusts will be forced to collect upfront payments from overseas patients before giving them non-urgent care, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced.

The move, which starts in April, is designed to cut down on so-called "health tourists", who "could be refused operations unless they agree to cover their costs in advance", the BBC says.

Emergency treatment will still be provided for overseas patients and an invoice will be sent afterwards.

Hunt said the proposal would help government efforts to recoup up to £500m each year, which it plans to reinvest in the NHS.

"We have no problem with overseas visitors using our NHS as long as they make a fair contribution, just as the British taxpayer does," he said.

The new rule also "raises the prospect of patients having to produce their passports and other identity documents before receiving most kinds of treatment", The Guardian reports.

Shyamantha Asokan, from medical charity Doctors of the World, told the paper that forcing identity checks on patients could have a negative impact for vulnerable people.

She said: "They're often very worried about going to a hospital because they are worried about being asked for documents they don't have or being asked to pay. 

"A lot of the doctors who volunteer for us don't want to be made into border guards."

The British Medical Association is seeking more information about how the new rules will be implemented.

"There is no detail as to how upfront charging will be introduced from scratch in just three months in an NHS already unable to cope with normal operations," it said.

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