Monday, October 23, 2017

Making foreigners pay

Migrants and visitors to the UK not eligible for free healthcare will from now on be charged upfront for the cost of their treatment. All organisations receiving NHS funding must now charge ineligible patients before they are treated. The charging regime will also be extended to services such as health visiting, school nursing, community midwifery, community mental health services, termination of pregnancy services, district nursing, support groups, advocacy services, and specialist services for homeless people and asylum seekers, according to Doctors of the World.

The system requires medical staff to establish whether patients are eligible for state-funded healthcare before providing treatment. If they are not, patients must pay an upfront charge that is currently set at 150% of the cost to providers.

 A survey of NHS professionals showing that eight in 10 were unable to make the crucial distinction between the eligibility of refugees, asylum seekers and those whose application for asylum had been rejected. A survey of NHS staff by Medact found almost two-thirds (62%) of respondents thought failed asylum seekers were ineligible for free primary care, with another third (30%) believing failed asylum seekers were not entitled to free emergency NHS care.

“It is clear that NHS staff do not have the training and support they need to correctly identify who is and isn’t entitled to healthcare,” Dr Ruth Wiggans, co-chair of Medact, said. “What we’ll see as a result is people who should be receiving NHS care being wrongly turned away or simply being too worried to seek help themselves.”

There are fears that an identification-checking scheme currently under pilot at 20 NHS trusts will be extended across the country, raising the prospect of a future where patients must attend hospital with their passports and driving licences to guarantee receiving treatment they are entitled to.

A former chief executive of the NHS, a range of civil society groups and hundreds of doctors who recently signed a letter to the health secretary – say the new rules, in force from Monday, will deter ill people from seeking life-saving treatment, and patients with infectious diseases could pass undetected.

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