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Overseas patients to be charged for emergency healthcare

Foreign patients could be charged for emergency treatment under new government plans for the NHS in England.

Foreign patients could be charged for emergency treatment under new government plans for the NHS in EnglandVisitors from outside the European Economic Area already pay for planned hospital care. The EEA covers the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt wants to save the NHS millions of pounds by extending the charges to A&E care. A consultation is expected to be set up in the next few weeks.

Overseas visitors can currently receive A&E treatment, ambulance services and GP visits free of charge, but if the plans go ahead some treatment could be withheld until fees are paid.

The Department of Health said exemptions would be put in place for refugees and asylum seekers, and pregnant women would not be turned away from maternity units if they had not paid upfront.

A department spokesman said: “International visitors are welcome to use the NHS, provided they pay for it – just as families living in the UK do through their taxes.”

“This government was the first to introduce tough measures to clamp down on migrants accessing NHS care and have always been clear we want to look at extending charges for non-EEA migrants.”

“No-one will be denied urgent treatment and vulnerable groups will continue to be exempt from charging.”

All visitors to the UK and British expats are charged 150% of the cost of non-emergency NHS treatment in order to discourage people travelling to the UK just to use health services – so-called “health tourism”.

The latest crackdown is expected to reclaim around £500 million.

A spokesman for the Royal College of Emergency Medicine told the newspaper that A&E doctors “cannot reasonably be expected to take on the burden of identifying who is eligible for free treatment, and who should be charged”.

The British Medical Association agreed, saying: “A doctor’s duty is to treat the patient in front of them, not to act as border guard. Any plans to charge migrants and short-term visitors need to be practical, economic and efficient.”

In April new rules came into force which mean non-EU citizens settling in the UK for longer than six months are required to pay a “health surcharge” as part of their visa applications.

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