Plans to charge migrants for using the NHS have been slammed by the British Medical Association (BMA).
According to the BMA, the plans could lead to confusion and increased bureaucracy in the health service, leading to a “complex patchwork” of charging and access entitlements.
The government plans to charging migrants and visitors for primary care services, such as prescriptions. However, GP and nurse consultations will remain free in order to prevent public health risks such as HIV, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections.
Overseas visitors would also pay higher fees for optical and dental services.
Although previously the Department of Health (DH) had suggested using the NHS number as a system for identifying and recording which patients should be charged, the latest suggestion states a “new system” will be developed.
And visitors and migrants will be charged for A&E services, including emergency care.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA’s GP committee said: “We cannot have a situation where any patient with a serious health need is deterred from visiting a GP, especially if their condition raises a potential public health risk.
“However, in their current form these proposals could introduce another layer of time consuming bureaucracy to general practice at a time when GPs and their staff are struggling to cope with rising workload and patient demand. GPs should be spending their time treating patients and not filling in forms for a complicated charging system that may not in the long term save large amounts of money.”
Health Minister Lord Howe said: “We know that we need to make changes across the NHS to better identify and charge visitors and migrants. Introducing charging at primary care is the first step to achieving this.
“We are already looking at taking action and next year we will set out our detailed plans to clamp down on the abuse of our NHS.”
A recent DH study estimated that up to £500 million could be recovered from overseas visitors and migrant use of the NHS through better charging.