New immigrants arriving in the UK will have to pay £200 a year to access the National Health System, the British government announced yesterday.
The move comes as the government tries to counter what it has labelled ‘health tourism’ – people moving to the UK on a temporary basis to take advantage of the country’s free health system. It is estimated that health tourism costs the NHS around £12 million in 2011/12.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday said that a £200 levy on visa charges would be imposed on any students or foreign workers who come to the UK for more than six months, while free access to GPs for tourists and those staying less than six months may also be curbed under the reforms.
“We have been clear that we are a national health service, not an international health service, and I am determined to wipe out abuse in the system,” said Minister Hunt. “It is right to ask whether that is fair to hard-working British families who pay about £5,000 a year in taxes or whether we need to have a fairer system.”
However, some GPs believe the new initiative could backfire by instead encouraging sick immigrants to head to already overcrowded A&E waiting rooms – which will still provide free services to everyone – and turn doctor’s surgeries into border control posts where they will be expected to check who should and shouldn’t be paying for services.
Clare Gerada, chair of the Council of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “I don’t think we should be turning the GP surgery into a border agency.”