PLANS for NHS trusts to charge foreign patients for non-urgent care amount to turning doctors into “border guards,” campaigners warned yesterday.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that from April hospitals will have a legal duty to check the tiny number of overseas patients’ eligibility for free treatment.
The policy will see any overseas patient coming to Britain for non-urgent treatment such as a hip operation turned away unless they foot the bill.
However, Health Campaigns Together, a coalition of NHS campaign groups, attacked the policy as a “dangerous distraction” that would mean patients needing to bring their passports when they go to hospital.
Cancer specialist Dr Aislinn Macklin-Doherty, a member of Health Campaigns Together, said: “The primary duty of doctors and nurses in the NHS is to look after their patients, not to act as border guards.
“Wasting scarce and valuable resources on health tourism to introduce checklists for care will compound the current funding crisis as it will be expensive and costly with minimal benefit.
“It also distracts from the real issues the NHS is facing.”
Keep Our NHS Public said that the private finance initiative, which has saddled NHS trusts with escalating debts from the building of hospitals by private companies charging colossal interest rates, was the real problem.
Doctors’ union the British Medical Association also said the plans, which aim to recoup £500 million a year, lack detail.
Chairman Dr Mark Porter said: “We need to be careful not to demonise overseas patients or sow chaos and confusion within the NHS.
“Doctors and nurses cannot be expected to arbitrarily decide whether a patient gets treatment or not.”
He added that £500m would not “in any way” solve the “enormous funding crisis” in our health service.