Around £500 million could be pumped back into the health service by reducing ‘health tourism’ an independent study shows.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the need to make changes to the current system is now clear.
The findings, published by the Department of Health, estimate that £388 million is spent each year on patients who are not entitled to have free healthcare in the UK.
Currently, around 16% of the costs are recovered by the NHS.
In addition, there is a cost of between £70 and £300 million from people who deliberately travel to the UK to get free NHS treatments, which could be significantly reduced, the study claims. The Immigration Bill proposes a new “health surcharge” which could generate an estimated £200 million for the NHS.
In total, the £388 million from patients in the UK, the £200 million generated through the surcharge, and the deterrent effect on the £70-£300 million from health tourists will together raise or save well over half a billion pounds.
The surcharge will be set at around £150 for students and at around £200 for other temporary migrants – raising up to £1.9 billion over a ten year period based on approximately 490,000 applicants who would be required to pay.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “These independent reports prove this is a serious problem that the government was right to address.
“We are confident our new measures will make the NHS fairer and more sustainable for the British families and taxpayers it was set up to serve.”
But Dr Peter Carte, chair of the Royal College of Nursing, believes an open debate is still needed before what he would consider to be a "radical overhaul" of the health service.
He said: “The NHS already has a system in place to charge non-EU visitors to the UK for certain services, and introducing a charging system that added to nurses’ workloads which could further take away time from patients – there is also no indication of how much it is going to cost to set this new process up.
“Any charges should not override the principle of access for all in need. We should not place further barriers on those with physical and mental health needs which may escalate to emergencies, which would also place further pressure on the NHS. We would also be concerned about the impact on vulnerable groups in this category particularly children, whether accompanied or unaccompanied, and their access to services.”
Having introduced measures to recover at least £500 million, the government will look to take further steps to recover a larger proportion of the total cost in future.