Health Tourism and the NHS

In November 2013 I first wrote about Health Tourism and the NHS. I quoted the guidance offered by NHS Choices website at the time. The wording of that guidance has changed and so, with the topic now being on the agenda again, thought it important to bring the post up to date and also to offer a common sense solution as to how we can make sure we have a National Health Service and not an International Health Service.

NHS Choices currently states

What services and treatments are free for everyone?

There are some situations where initial treatment is available free on the NHS to all overseas visitors. These include:
Emergency treatment – this may be in an accident and emergency (A&E) department, a walk-in centre or a GP surgery
Treatment of certain infectious diseases, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Compulsory psychiatric treatment
Treatment imposed by a court order
Family planning services – this does not include maternity treatment or terminations of pregnancies

However, unless you’re exempt from charges, you’ll have to pay NHS charges if you’re admitted to hospital (this includes high dependency units and other emergency treatment, such as operations) or referred to an outpatient clinic.

Overseas visitors coming to my surgery are given an NHS number in order for us to be able to process them. Once they have this NHS number, this is, quite often the key to free treatment throughout the NHS.

NHS numbers are currently in the format 999 999 9999 where 9 represents any number from 0-9. I suggest that overseas visitors arriving at my surgery without proof of being previously registered elsewhere in the UK be issued with a distinguishing NHS number something like 999 999 9999 X where X is any letter of the alphabet.

The new format of NHS number would give entitlement to all treatments shown above but would generate bills for any other services such as prescriptions and treatments other than those listed above.

There would be minor technical problems to be overcome but this would be a major step forward in stopping the abuses of the NHS by health tourists.