AS OF yesterday, doctors, nurses and NHS staff are required to demand documentation from patients to prove that they are eligible for free health care and if not to charge them up front fees.
NHS workers are up in arms at the measures. They say that they will not be border guards and will not carry out the checks because if patients do not receive the care they urgently need human life will be put into danger. Miriam Beeks, a GP at Lower Clapton Group Practice in east London, has put up posters telling patients they can register as ‘no fixed abode’.
‘Doctors, in general, hate the idea that they are being used as immigration officers. Doctors should feel confident about standing against this. We are backed up by both NHS and GMC (General Medical Council) confidentiality rules – our interactions with our patients are confidential,’ she said.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Chair of the British Medical Association, insists that these checks must not be enforced. He said: ‘It is vital that patients do not face bureaucratic or financial obstacles that prevent acutely sick and vulnerable individuals from seeking necessary treatment. This would be morally unacceptable and could end up costing the NHS more money due to lack of timely treatment.’
The government has previously claimed that up to £500m could be recovered from overseas visitors’ and migrants’ use of the NHS every year. The measures apply to planned, non-urgent care – A&E, general practice and infectious disease treatment remain free to everyone.
Charity, Doctors of the World said: ‘From Monday all community health organisations in England that receive NHS funding will be legally required to check every patient’s immigration status. If the patient cannot provide ID to prove they are exempt from charges, they will have to pay in full before receiving any treatment. The fee will be 150% of the cost of their treatment.
‘Doctors of the World totally opposes these new rules, which will force health workers to turn away patients who don’t have the ID documents required or can’t afford to pay. The rules will further deter some of the most vulnerable members of our communities, such as homeless people and victims of trafficking, from getting healthcare.
‘At our clinics, we see destitute cancer sufferers, pregnant women and children who are already too afraid to see an NHS doctor because of their immigration status. These new rules will make the current climate of fear amongst our patients even worse.’