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British Medical Association Questions NHS Charges for Overseas Patients

The British Medical Association has published a new report which strongly suggests a significant amount of immigrant patients are forgoing NHS treatment due to upfront charges introduced in 2017 (under The National Health Service (Charges to Overseas Visitors – Amendment). 

A dangerous lack of understanding about which conditions and circumstances the charges apply to seems widespread – which is especially concerning when 35% of BMA members claim they have personally witnessed patients deterred from accessing services. 

Under the policy – and no matter what the UK immigration status of the patient – there are several categories of medical care always exempt from payment. These include, most pointedly: maternity care (antenatal and postnatal), accident and emergency services and infectious diseases.

For less urgent conditions, overseas visitors, undocumented immigrants and (rejected) asylum seekers are informed of the cost of their care before any action is taken. However, there are incidences listed within the report in which this announcement is made immediately before scheduled surgery, expecting a binding decision from an already stressed and quite possibly confused patient.

While still only proposals passing through Parliament, the BMA was already questioning the effect patients not seeking help might have on public health in general. In answer to this, the Department of Health and Social Care launched its own internal review in December 2017. It has, however, refused calls to publish its findings in full ever since. 

In the absence of any official information to contest its frontline findings, the report ends with a call to correct the damage the BMA believes is already being done. Among the urgent measures they feel needed are: the simplification of charges and the immediate introduction of safeguards to protect the vulnerable. Also – a rigorous and transparent investigation into whether the charges have saved the UK the money it was promised they would. 

Dr John Chisholm, BMA medical ethics committee chair: “The role of doctors – and all of their healthcare colleagues – must be to treat and care for patients, not to act as border guards, policing patients’ access to and payment for treatment.”

“The Government must take urgent action and come clean over the evidence they have on the impact these rules are having on the ground. The public has a right to know what the evidence shows.”


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