Intended for healthcare professionals


Should we allow overseas visitors free access to NHS services?

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: (Published 02 August 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j3665
  1. Tom Moberly, UK editor
  1. The BMJ
  1. tmoberly{at}

Some doctors oppose restricting overseas’ visitors access to free NHS services, while others object to the idea of providing these services to anyone regardless of eligibility. Tom Moberly reports

If ministers’ calculations are correct, up to £500m a year will be recovered and reinvested in patient care after restrictions on overseas visitors’ access to NHS services are introduced.

In February, health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced plans to require all hospitals to charge upfront those patients who are not eligible for free non-urgent, planned care. “We have no problem with overseas visitors using our NHS—as long as they make a fair contribution, just as the British taxpayer does,” he said.

But Hunt’s view, that only those who contribute to the NHS should be eligible for free care, is not one shared by all doctors. For many, the idea of restricting access to NHS services, therefore placing financial and administrative barriers between patients and clinicians, remains contentious.

The issue caused a fierce debate at this year’s BMA’s annual representative meeting. In the …

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