The British Government paid almost 15 times as much out to other EEA nations for healthcare
Figures from the Department of Health show that in 2014/15, the UK paid out a total of £659.7m for healthcare supplied in other EEA nations, whilst receiving just £43.3m, the Pulse magazine reported.
The DH said the difference is largely due to the number of British pensioners retiring abroad under the free EU movement rules.
The DH has published a consultation earlier this month into charging overseas visitors for some GP services, such as blood tests, lung function tests and prescriptions. But the British Medical Association (BMA) warned the new system would ‘cause confusion’.
The new BMA guidance says that GP practices should provide routine care to any patient – including tourists – even if they are unable to show proof of address or ID. The new guidance makes clear that even tourists who are staying in the area temporarily should not be charged either for emergency or routine care. “There is no contractual duty to seek evidence of identity or immigration status or proof of address. Therefore practices should not refuse registration on the grounds that a patient is unable to produce such evidence,” BMA guidance explains. ’Anyone who is in England is entitled to receive NHS primary medical services at a GP practice and applications for registration for any patient in England must be considered in exactly the same way, regardless of country of residence.’
“While there may be room for improvement in the current system for reclaiming healthcare costs from European or other governments whose citizens are treated by our healthcare system, we should not introduce proposals that impact on the care patients receive and we must ensure that sick and vulnerable patients are not deterred from seeking treatment,” BMA deputy chair Dr Kailash Chand told the Pulse. ’Most importantly, GPs and other healthcare professionals do not have the capacity or the resources to administer an extended charging system that could require them to extensively vet every single patient when they register with a new practice… A doctor’s duty is to treat the patient in front of them, not act as a border guard.’
Ireland, at £225.8m, received the largest sum from the UK in 2014/15, followed by Spain at £210.3m. Ireland paid the UK £18.4m, while Spain paid less than £181,000.
The amount recouped under the EHIC scheme also shows a large differential, with the UK paying out £141.3m, and claiming back £28.3bn in 2014/15. Although, the DH said that the outgoing sum covered both emergency and ‘planned’ treatments.
Since April this year, non-EEA visitors are charged a surcharge of £200 to access the NHS, but this does not apply in primary care.