Feature NHS Care for Overseas Patients

Free for all?

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a1111 (Published 01 August 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1111
  1. Jane Cassidy, freelance journalist
  1. 1London
  1. janecassi{at}yahoo.co.uk

    The UK government is due to issue guidance on treatment for foreign nationals later this year. But doctors say they should concentrate on giving appropriate health care and not worry about policing the UK borders, as Jane Cassidy reports

    Doctors concerned about government attempts to restrict free NHS care for vulnerable migrant groups are gearing up for a fresh battle over treatment charges. The question of fees for foreign nationals is currently being revisited jointly by the Department of Health and the Home Office. A review of their findings is expected shortly and may lead to changes in regulations governing entitlement to free NHS primary care.

    The government first consulted on proposals to deny free access to primary care for failed asylum seekers and undocumented migrants in 2004, but it never published the results of its public consultation exercise. But medical students and doctors from the group Medsin have summarised in a report1 the contents of submissions to the 2004 consultation from doctors, primary care trusts, and non-governmental organisations working with migrant communities.They contacted those who responded to the consultation individually to ask for copies of their submissions—after a request in 2007 under the Freedom of Information Act to the Department of Health yielded only the names of 275 respondents. Concerns highlighted in the report include damage to doctor-patient relations, risks to public health, and discrimination.

    Medsin member Tom Yates said: “The government proposes dramatic policy changes based on flimsy evidence. The information we’re gathering is valuable to the public debate on this.” The group has now taken its freedom of information appeal to the information commissioner, a government officer who deals with freedom of information challenges.

    Others are also lining up to attack restrictions on free primary care. An online petition has been signed by 743 doctors, and …

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