TORY-LIBDEM Coalition plans to charge fees to immigrants and overseas visitors attending District General Hospital Accident and Emergency Departments were condemned by Unison yesterday.
‘The NHS is not there to act as border control and NHS workers are not there to act as an agency to verify British citizenship,’ a Unison spokesperson told News Line.
‘The NHS is there to treat sick people.
‘If people are sick then the NHS should do all in its power to help them.
‘If the government has issues with immigration it has to deal with those separately.’
However, the government has made clear charging at A&Es is just the start and it also plans to charge for other NHS services, such as minor surgery carried out by a GP and physiotherapy referred through a GP.
It also intends to introduce a new system for identifying and recording patients who it says should be charged for NHS services.
Health Minister Lord Howe yesterday made it clear that this is just the start of NHS charging, saying: ‘We know that we need to make changes across the NHS to better identify and charge visitors and migrants.
‘Introducing charging at primary care is the first step to achieving this. We are already looking at taking action and next year we will set out our detailed plans to clamp down on the abuse of our NHS.’
Shadow health minister Lord Hunt also supported NHS charging on behalf of the Labour Party leadership, only accusing the government of not doing it with sufficient efficiency.
He said: ‘Labour is in favour of improving the recovery of costs from people with no entitlement to NHS treatment.
‘Rather than more grand-standing, the government needs to deliver practical, thought-through changes to make that happen.
‘Instead this out-of-touch government is left asking doctors and nurses to act as surrogate immigration officials.’
The Department of Health claimed that through ‘better charging’ £500m could be raised from overseas visitors’ and migrants’ use of the NHS every year.
The government has announced a £200-a-year levy on migrants from outside the European Economic Areaµ staying for between six months and five years.
Academics have argued that the extent of ‘health tourism’ has been hugely overstated and is responsible for only a small part of NHS expenditure.