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NHS: Migrant Access and Charges

House of Lords written question – answered on 10th July 2013.

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Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Liberal Democrat

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Statement by Lord Taylor of Holbeach on 3 July (WS 78), what is the evidence of “public concern that the current rules regulating non-European Economic Area migrant access to publicly funded healthcare services are both overly generous, particularly when compared with wider international practice”.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The concern is evident in many quarters, including the support received by my Hon Friend Henry Smith MP in the Other Place in tabling the NHS Audit Requirements (Foreign Nationals) Bill in September 2012, the results of the survey of GPs published in Pulse Magazine in January this year which showed that 52 per cent of respondents felt that provision of free NHS care for migrants was too generous, the articles published by the NHS consultant Professor Meirion Thomas in the Spectator earlier this year criticising the current rules, and the BBC Panorama programme broadcast in October which highlighted the significant difficulties the NHS has in interpreting and applying the rules. The majority of those who responded to the Home Office’s previous consultation which preceded the October 2011 Immigration Rules change on refusing immigration applications made by persons with significant unpaid debts to the NHS supported the measure.

In England, entitlement to free NHS hospital treatment is based on being lawfully and properly settled in the UK for the time being, meaning that a temporary resident can qualify straight away, whilst primary care is free to all. A Department of Health review of the overseas visitors charging policy in 2012 reported that in many other countries temporary migrants buy into the state healthcare system, whilst students and short-term visitors may be required to pay for healthcare. The Department of Health and the Home Office are now consulting on proposals to change the rules and procedures for charging visitors and migrants for NHS care. The Department of Health has commissioned independent research to understand the scale of the issue, which will inform decisions taken after the consultation responses have been considered.

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