Failed asylum seekers to get free NHS care

A review of access to the NHS by foreign nationals has recommended that people whose application for asylum has been refused but who cannot leave the country 'through not fault of their own' can receive free healthcare.\r\n

A joint review by the Department of Health and Home Office will increase the number of foreign nationals who do not have to pay for treatment on the NHS to include failed asylum seekers who would ‘otherwise be destitute’, have children, cannot return home and unaccompanied children.

However doctors said they would not act as immigration officers.

The review also recommended that where foreign nationals ought to pay for treatment but run up debts should be banned from Britain until they settle their bills.

Health tourism is thought to cost the NHS £200m a year.

British residents who travel for part of the year will be able to remain abroad for six months without incurring NHS charges on treatment when they return, the review group said.

Currently UK residents can be charged for NHS treatment if they are out of Britain for more than three months in a year.

Consideration will also be given to requiring all visitors to Britain to have health insurance, a spokesman for the Department of Health said.

A public consultation will be held on the changes with a view to introducing them early in 2010.

Health Minister, Ann Keen said: "These changes will support a clearer and fairer system of access to free NHS services that will maintain the confidence of the public and prevent inappropriate access while maintaining our commitment to human rights.

"These measures strike the right balance between controlled access, the protection and promotion of wider public health, and ensuring that the healthcare needs of the most vulnerable groups are protected.

"We remain firmly committed to the requirement that immediately necessary or other urgent treatment should never be denied or delayed from those that require it."

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Head of Science and Ethics at the British Medical Association, said: "There are many people who have had an asylum claim refused, cannot return home, and need urgent treatment. This announcement, while positive, applies to only one group of people in this situation, and does not go far enough.

"We believe no one whose asylum claim has been refused should be turned down for care which cannot be delayed, and which clinicians determine they need.

"The role of clinical staff is to determine what care a patient needs, and how urgently they need it – not to assess their immigration status."

Sir Andrew Green, Chairman of Migrationwatch UK, said: "These proposals amount to jamming open the door for illegal immigrants to access the National Health Service. No wonder they are queuing up in Calais.

"The Government have dithered about this for five years since their first consultation document in May 2004. They have now chosen almost the last day of Parliament to announce their surrender to the immigration lobby.

"We accept that medics cannot be used as immigration officers. That is why we have proposed that each Primary Care Trust should have a small office of trained personnel who could decide whether or not non-British nationals are entitled to NHS treatment. With a financial crisis bearing down upon us we simply cannot afford to offer treatment to the whole world. Nor is it right that those who have paid into the system should be disadvantaged by those who have made no such contribution." The Telegraph (UK)