30 April 2012

Concerns rise over UK immigration burden on NHS

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Current UK immigration rules which allow foreign nationals to receive free healthcare on the NHS have been labelled 'outrageous' by immigration watchdog MigrationWatchUK.

UK immigration

MigrationWatchUK has raised concerns that foreign patients can receive free NHS care.

In a Parliamentary address, Health Minister Simon Burns admitted that there was no formal procedure in place for GPs or local surgeries to verify a patient's UK immigration status. Mr Burns said GPs were able to request proof of identity or address, but they must not do so in a 'discriminatory way'.

Mr Burns said doctors could, if they wished, provide a foreign patient with a six month UK visa which would allow them to medical treatment. 

MigrationWatchUK has reacted with outrage at the revelation, claiming current processes cost £10 million a year in lost medical fees to foreign patients while leaving the NHS open to 1.6 million immigrants a year potentially abusing the state-funded system

"Someone getting off a plane with a valid visitors visa is in effect able to access the GP servicse of the NHS without having paid a penny into the system. Over one and a half million such visas were issued last year," said Sir Andrew Green, chairman of MigrationWatchUK.

!And once registered with a GP it is, in practice, an easy step to potentially highly expensive and long term treatment - all at the expense of the UK taxpayer with little or no prospect of the beneficiaries ever being charged for it."

Sir Green said ascertaining a foreign patient's immigration status should not be a GP's prerogative and warned that the effects of such a lax system could prove disastrous.

"It is clearly not the job of doctors to act as an arm of the immigration service but there are clear and substantial risks of abuse in such a lax system and controls must be put in place. Everyone knows the pressure the NHS is under and its ever increasing cost to the taxpayer.

"The situation is outrageous, it must be stopped. The NHS risks becmoing the 'World Health Service'."

Mr Burns confirmed that the Government would be looking at new ways of tackling the sort of abuse Sir Green protested against such as charging foreign patients for medical care or forcing them to take out medical insurance.

Mr Burns said penalties to such schemes could be easily imposed, such as refusing re-entry to a foreign patient who failed to pay for their medical expenses.


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