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NHS to save £500m by cutting health tourism

22 October 2013

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Up to £500 million could be recovered by slashing ‘health tourism’ and slack funding recovery, an independent study appears to show. 

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the need to make changes to the current system is now clear. 

The findings, published by the Department of Health, estimate that £388 million is spent each year on patients who are not entitled to have free healthcare in the UK. 

Currently, around 16% of the costs are recovered by the NHS. 

In addition, there is a cost of between £70 and £300 million from people who deliberately travel to the UK to get free NHS treatments, which could be significantly reduced, the study claims. 

The Immigration Bill proposes a new “health surcharge” which could generate an estimated £200 million for the NHS. 

In total, the £388 million from patients in the UK, the £200 million generated through the surcharge, and the deterrent effect on the £70-£300 million from health tourists will together raise or save well over half a billion pounds.

The surcharge will be set at around £150 for students and at around £200 for other temporary migrants – raising up to £1.9 billion over a ten year period based on approximately 490,000 applicants who would be required to pay.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “These independent reports prove this is a serious problem that the government was right to address. 

“We are confident our new measures will make the NHS fairer and more sustainable for the British families and taxpayers it was set up to serve.” 

But Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, does not believe that GPs should be turned into a ‘border agency’. 

Although she accepted it was good for the Department of Heath to commission the research, she said that many of the statistics are based on approximate figures and should be “treated with caution”. 

She said: “GPs have a duty of care to all people seeking healthcare, and should not be expected to police access to healthcare and turn people away when they are at their most vulnerable.

“The risks to public health that will arise from these proposals are also very real. They will deter people from seeking medical help in the early stages of illness when they can be dealt with cost-effectively and efficiently in primary care, rather than requiring expensive specialist care and increasing admissions to emergency departments.

“We also strongly oppose the extra administrative responsibilities for GPs and practice staff that would be created as a result of these proposals, which will further impact on all patients.”

Having introduced measures to recover at least £500 million, the Government will look to take further steps to recover a larger proportion of the total cost in future.