Doctors Claim Planned Charging To Immigrants ‘Would Damage Health Services’ -Proposed plans to extend the charging system for migrants and short term visitors attempting to access healthcare in UK are impractical and could unintentionally damage to health services, a leading NHS medical union has warned.
The leading medics’ body, the BMA, said proposals to change the financial contribution system for migrants and visitors would increase bureaucracy across the country.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said the proposals by the UK Government to change the financial contribution system for migrants and overseas visitors raised serious concerns about the cost of the bureaucracy involved in collecting payment and the impact it would have on GPs, who were already struggling with increased workloads.
Consultations by both the Department of Health and the Home Office on the ways to ensure migrants make a financial contribution to the NHS draw to a close on Thursday.
Among the options being put forward is the introduction of a levy, which would be purchased at the time of applying for a visa of over six months.
There are also proposals to end free access to primary care for all visitors and tourists and to increase the effectiveness of the NHS to claim back reimbursement from the home countries of patients who are visiting from within European Economic Area.
The BMA said it agreed with the Government that care should not be denied to patients who require immediate treatment, but added that the proposals raised ethical concerns.
Mark Porter, chair of BMA Council, said: “The BMA believes that anyone accessing NHS services should be eligible to do so, but the Government’s plans for extending charging to migrants and short term visitors are impractical, uneconomic and inefficient.
“The NHS does not have the infrastructure or resources to administrate a charging system that is not likely to produce enough revenue to cover the cost of setting up its own bureaucracy. The NHS does not need more administrators; it should be spending its money on caring for patients.
“More worryingly, the proposals could have an impact on the care all patients receive. If non-EEA doctors are forced to make contributions to their healthcare this could discourage them from coming to practice in the UK and working in key services, such as emergency departments, which are experiencing doctor shortages. This could exacerbate the current workload pressures already facing the NHS.
“The Government needs to rethink it is entire approach to this issue as in their current form these proposals are unworkable and potentially damaging to the NHS.”
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA’s GP committee, said: “GPs, like many other NHS staff, do not have the capacity to administer a complicated bureaucratic system that is of questionable benefit to taxpayers and patients.
“Asking patients to produce documentation to prove their residency faces a number of problems. It would mean all patients would have to have their eligibility checked each time they register with their GP. This would be a huge inconvenience to all members of the public and would take up valuable time that practices could be using to treat patients.”
The Welsh Government said it expected to be involved in any changes to the law and is working with the UK Government on the issue.
A spokesman said: “Immigration is a wholly non-devolved matter, though clearly any changes in immigration rules would have an impact in Wales. Welsh Ministers would, however, expect to be involved in any changes to the law.
“We will need to see any proposed legislative changes from the UK Government before any decisions can be taken for Wales.
“In the mean time the Welsh Government is liaising with the NHS and officials in the Department of Health in England and the Home Office on this matter.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “No one expects health workers to become immigration guards and we want to work alongside doctors to bring about improvements, but we are clear we must all work together to protect the NHS from costly abuse.
“We want a system that is fair for the British taxpayer by ensuring that foreign nationals pay for their NHS treatment. By looking at the scale of the problem and at where and how improvements can be made we will help ensure the NHS remains sustainable for many years to come.