Migrants to be charged £200 NHS fee

Jeremy HuntForeigners who come to the UK will be charged hundreds of pounds a year to access NHS treatment under new plans to ensure migrants "contribute towards the cost of their healthcare", health officials said.

Ministers will outline plans to introduce a levy on any students or foreign workers who come to the UK for more than half a year.

%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%The fee, which is likely to be around £200 a year, will be an addition to the visa charge, officials said. The cost will "ensure that migrants contribute towards the cost of their healthcare whilst not increasing red tape and administration for NHS professionals," a Department of Health spokesman said.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is expected to announce a public consultation on the move on Thursday as part of a raft of changes to immigration laws.
Mr Hunt said: "We need to ensure that those residing or visiting the UK are contributing to the system in the same way as British taxpayers, and ensure we do as much as possible to target illegal migration. 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. The NHS is a national treasure and we need to work with the entire health system to develop plans and make sure it is sustainable for years to come."

He will also outline plans to end free access to GPs for short-term visitors. But the National AIDS Trust (NAT) said that the initiatives could risk the lives of people living with HIV and would also threaten the health of Britons.

Chief executive Deborah Jack said: "If introduced, these policies will endanger the lives of people living with HIV and threaten the health of our community. The proposals, if enforced, would undermine years of work to encourage marginalised at-risk groups to access HIV testing and treatment. By limiting access to primary care for some migrants living in England we would cut off the only place many of them will get an HIV diagnosis - short of presenting at A&E many years after they were infected, once they are very seriously ill."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said people with HIV would still receive free healthcare if the scheme went ahead. The NHS bill for treating tourists, estimated to be up to £200 million, will also be tackled, Mr Hunt will say.

Clare Gerada, who chairs the Council of the Royal College of General Practitioners, issued a stark warning that the measures posed a public health risk and could end up costing the taxpayer more. Immigrants with highly infectious conditions could end up "wandering around for fear of being charged" or going to emergency units that were far more expensive to run than doctors' surgeries, she said.

Mr Hunt said foreign patients would not be refused treatment in emergency cases. He told BBC Breakfast: "We don't want any doctors or any hospitals ever to turn people away who need help in an emergency. We want to make sure we have a non-bureaucratic system in place so that where someone should be paying for their care, we actually do charge them and we do collect the money later. That's what most other countries manage. We are the most generous country in the world when it comes to that kind of thing."
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