Non-EU migrants living in the UK for less than six months should pay to use the NHS, the government has suggested.
The plans, which could see charges of up to £200 per year aim to ensure legal migrants make a fair contribution to public services.
Under the proposed system, people visiting for less than six months would be charged for visiting the GP.
Cutting system ‘abuse’
However, sexual health services and treatment of infectious diseases will remain free at the point of delivery because of the risks to public health.
“We need to ensure that those residing in or visiting the UK are contributing to the system, but we want work to implement a system that limits red tape and administration for NHS professionals,” said Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
“We are clear that the NHS is a national health service not an international health service and I am determined to cut out abuse in the system.”
Currently, short-term migrants working or studying with more than six months on their visas are likely to qualify for free hospital care as soon as they enter the UK.
The consultation will look into whether the levy should be introduced as an upfront charge or whether private health insurance could be an alternative.
A registration and tracking system for chargeable visitors as well as better checks could ensure charges are enforced in hospitals and primary care.
The Department of Health said it is “unclear” how widely migrants use the NHS. An independent audit has been commissioned to gain an understanding of the true cost to taxpayers.