Group warns of UK immigrants accessing free healthcare

Migration Watch UK, an anti-immigration independent think tank, has warned that the UK risks an increase in "health tourism" when it was announced that foreign nationals who arrive in the UK on a visitor's visa can receive free healthcare.

The rule was confirmed in response to a parliamentary written question asked by Labour MP Frank Field. Ministers have also confirmed that doctors are not required to ask prospective patients for ID or proof of address when registering them. This means that foreign nationals arriving in the UK with a visitor's visa will be able to access healthcare services without paying anything towards the NHS.

In a Parliamentary address, Health Minister Simon Burns admitted that there currently is no procedure in place for doctors to verify a patient's UK immigration status. Burns added that doctors are able to request proof of identity or address, but they must not do so in a "discriminatory way".

Last year, over 1.5 million UK visitor visas were issued.

Migration Watch UK has warned that this could lead to more "health tourism", which is when foreigners travel into the country to benefit from free healthcare. They also warned that thousands of illegal immigrants may be receiving NHS care because of this rule. According to Migration Watch UK, £10 million a year is lost to foreign nationals who fail to pay back the cost of their treatment.

The Government says they are looking at ways to handle the growing cost of health tourism. Several proposed changes include foreigners being charged for visiting a doctor, requiring them to take out a health insurance policy, or refusing re-entry to a foreign patient who failed to pay for their medical expenses.

"There are comprehensive rules and procedures to charge visitors for hospital treatment but we know that the system needs to be improved. That is why we are currently reviewing those arrangements to prevent inappropriate free access to the NHS and provide a fairer, more balanced system," said UK Health Minister Simon Burns.

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