Department of Health guidance opens opportunities for ‘health tourism’
Recent undercover BBC investigation has found that places on GP lists are being sold on the black market to ‘health tourists’.
The BBC Panorama has conducted research regarding identification of people who are eligible to a free NHS service. Freedom of Information (FoI) requests have been sent to all 171 hospital trusts in England and Wales, 133 of which have responded.
It was found that one third of them were not asking patients whether or not they were resident in the UK and therefore eligible for treatment.
The FOI results showed that there were at least £40m worth of care given to ‘health tourists’ over a four year period. However, Conservative MP Chris Skidmore said that the figure did not reveal the extent of the cost to the NHS.
Despite the research results, Health Minister Ms Soubry disagreed with current policy that requires hospitals to even pose the question of patients. She said that there are many people who would be offended if they were being asked to prove their eligibility to free NHS treatment every time they went to a hospital.
The Minister agreed that the guidance, as it stands, is complex and said the system has failures and is flawed. She said an on-going government review of how to determine NHS eligibility aims to address the shortcomings.
Recent Department of Health guidance issued to primary care trusts states: "Overseas visitors, whether lawfully in the UK or not, are eligible to register with a GP practice."
It said that GPs should not turn patients down, even if they fail to provide identification or proof of address.
Dr Chris Clayton-Payne, a GP from Saffron Walden, expressed his disagreement with the new guidance and said: "It seems very strange when we're shaving off the pennies here and there to actually open the door wide to the citizens of the world to walk in and have free medical care at primary care level in the UK."