Monday, 20 July 2009

Access to NHS services for foreign nationals

-Department of Health and Home Office publish joint review findings-

A joint Department of Health and Home Office review group has published its findings on a review into access to the NHS by foreign nationals, Health Minister Ann Keen announced today.

The review, launched in 2007, set out to examine the rules on charging non-UK residents for access to NHS services in England. The government has concluded that there should not be any significant change for either primary or secondary care.

The government has now agreed on a number of proposals, which will be consulted on in the autumn:

  • Asylum seekers whose claim has been refused but who are being supported because there are recognised barriers to their return home should be exempt from charges;
  • Unaccompanied children, including those in local authority care, should be exempt from charges;
  • UK residents may be absent from the country for up to six months in a year before being considered for charges for NHS hospital treatment;
  • Working with the UK Border Agency to recover money owed to the NHS and exploring options to amend the Immigration Rules so that visitors will normally be refused permission to enter or remain in the United Kingdom if they have significant debts to the NHS; and
  • Investigating the longer-term feasibility of introducing health insurance requirements for visitors.

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.”

The proposed changes will be put to public consultation in the autumn. The Department of Health and the Home Office will undertake separate consultations on their respective areas of responsibility, which will be linked and coordinated. Subject to the outcome of the consultation, changes will take effect as soon as possible in 2010.

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