Happy New Year to you all. Some of you may be interested in a recent press release from John Hutton Minister of Health (in England) in which he sets out new rules intended to reduce the number of overseas visitors with no substantive link to the UK from receiving NHS hospital treatment. It also revises rules regarding the status of pensioners residing partly abroad and also situation for students. The new rules come into force in April 2004; (I suspect this may only apply to England but i am not sure as no press releases have been issued on the subject in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland). Further new rules on entitlement to primary care are due to be published this month.
The extent to which this is a significant resource issue though has been challenged, (one study indicates 350 million GB pounds per annum ) as information in this area is limited. I have attached a BBC news item for further information and reaction as well
LSE Health and Social Care
The full press release issued on 30 December is available at
BBC news story at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3355751.stm
Excerpt from Press Release
HUTTON ANNOUNCES CRACKDOWN ON HEALTH CHEATS
These new rule changes will stop the following people from receiving free treatment:
* Failed asylum seekers and others with no legal right to be in the country - they will be stopped from receiving free treatment for conditions which arise after their legal status has been finally determined.
* Dependants and spouse of someone who is permanently resident in the UK will no longer be able to visit the country briefly just to obtain free treatment. They will only be entitled if they permanently reside in this country. For example this will prevent heavily pregnant wives of permanent overseas residents from coming to the UK just to give birth.
* Business travellers to the UK and their dependants who fall ill or are injured on a trip to the UK. Only people who work and are permanently resident in the UK will be eligible.
There will also be changes made to the rules to ensure that British pensioners who spend part of the year living in another European country get a fairer deal. The new rules will make it easier for pensioners who regularly choose to spend part of the year in another EEA country to receive treatment. The current situation means that if someone spends more than three months out of the country they are technically not eligible for free NHS treatment. The new rules will allow pensioners to spend up to six months out of the country every year and still be eligible.
Mr Hutton said:
"The NHS is there to provide free treatment for those who live here, not those who don't. It is a national health service. Not an international service. Irrespective of the financial scale of abuse, it is important we establish a closer link between free use of the NHS and residency in the UK.
"NHS staff have told us what abuses are occurring and what rule changes they would like made. We have listened to them and we are making those changes so that the NHS is no longer taken for a ride. From now on NHS staff will have a clear set of rules to apply with which to work and we expect Trusts to enforce them properly and help ensure that NHS resources are used to meet the health care needs of people living in the UK, not those who just happen to be passing through the UK.
"In developing the regulations I have asked the Department of Health to work with the NHS Counter Fraud Service. The expertise of the NHS Counter Fraud Service will be used to ensure that the regulations allow it to pursue individuals who falsely claim entitlement to free treatment in the same way that it currently pursues fraudulent claims within the pharmaceutical, dental and optical sectors.
"These new rules will ensure that the NHS is first and foremost for the benefit of UK residents. We need to make it clear to overseas visitors that they will be charged for treatment and that failed asylum seekers will no longer be eligible. However, in making these rule changes, it must be stressed that we will continue to meet our international obligations in providing healthcare for genuine asylum seekers."
Home Office minister Beverly Hughes said:
"I welcome these changes which will help to ensure that NHS care is going only to those entitled to it and that people can have confidence in the system. In the longer term, ID cards could provide a more secure way of assessing a person's eligibility for free healthcare."
Ministers will be looking at the most effective way of ensuring that the NHS can enforce the new system and effectively charge for treatment. For example the operation of the charging regime could form part of NHS Trusts' annual reports or annual statistics on how many overseas visitors are treated and how much income has been recovered.
Later next month the Government will be outlining changes to the rules which govern access to primary care treatment.
The rule changes announced today are expected to come into force in April 2004.