03 July 2013

Health secretary adds medical charge to UK immigration policy

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Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced today that new migrants to the UK from outside the European Economic Area will be required to pay an upfront levy of at least £1,000 to access healthcare during their first five years in the country.

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Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said his changes would create a 'fairer' system.

Mr Hunt also said short-term visitors from outside the EU would no longer have access to GPs and would be required to pay for hospital treatment, although no one would be refused emergency treatment.

Speaking to Radio 4 today Mr Hunt said a six week consultation to trial the plan would be carried out but insisted the plans would not place any undue risks on public health.

"We want to get this right," he said. "We have one of the most open health systems for visitors in the world. One of the issues is that is so easy to get an NHS number and that means you have a passport to the whole system."

The minister's proposal is part of a Government-wide attempt to reduce the costs of the immigration system on the taxpayer and 'health tourism' has become a growing concern.

"We want a [health] system that is sustainable, but also one that is fair to hardworking British families. We pay about £5,000 a year for every family in the UK in taxes to pay for our NHS and we want to ask other people who are visiting the UK to make a fair contribution if they're not paying those taxes."

However, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) says any move would not only increase public health risks but turn medical practices into border agencies.

"People use the NHS if they've got infections and we certainly don't want to have people wandering around for fear of being charged at the GP surgery," said Clare Gerada, chair of the RCGP Council.

"At the moment we are fairly accessible and I think it is important to keep it that way. I don't think we should be turning the GP surgery into a border agency.

"I think we should be making sure that people who do feel that they are ill can come and access us because we certainly don't want people who have got TB or HIV or any other infectious disease, or in fact anybody that believes themselves to be ill, to be frightened of seeing a GP for fear of being charged."


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