I am so proud of our NHS and the first class service offered by UK doctors and nurses.However, the quality of the service we deliver, free to anyone who needs it, makes the UK a target for unscrupulous health tourism. I therefore welcome the recent Government announcement that, as of April, every NHS trust will have a legal duty to charge overseas patients upfront for any non-urgent treatment. This will ensure only those eligible for free NHS care receive it.
I agree with my honourable colleague Jeremy Hunt when he says “we have no problem with overseas visitors using our NHS as long as they make a fair contribution, just as the British taxpayer does". I believe that health tourism robs our citizens of vital resources and is unfair to those who have worked hard and made vital contributions through NI payments. The idea to charge overseas patients for treatment is not new but previously patients had their treatment and were invoiced afterwards. All too often this resulted in us being unable to recoup the costs where patients were unwilling or unable to pay.
The changes will mean those who are not eligible for free care will be asked to pay upfront for non-urgent treatment. This will take the pressure off hospitals who currently have to spend time chasing payment for invoices and brings us into line with many of our European neighbours who already operate in this way. The move aims to recover up to £500 million a year by the middle of this Parliament, money that can then be reinvested in patient care.
Emergency treatment will continue to be provided irrespective of the patient’s citizenship but will be invoiced later. However, hospitals and other NHS bodies will be required to flag up on a database details of patients who are ineligible for free care so that other parts of the health service can identify them. The Department of Health has given the assurance they are determined to ensure there is minimal financial burden on British citizens from overseas visitors and that those identified as being entitled to free NHS treatment will receive it without question.
The number of people in the UK seeking treatment is on the rise and we are giving the NHS the funding it said was needed, with an additional £10 billion by 2020. By contrast, Labour’s plan would have delivered £1.3 billion less in this year alone – equivalent to having 30,000 fewer nurses. This Government is committed to improving standards of care.
This article was previously published in The Burton Mail