Visitors and migrants who wish to use NHS services will have to pay, the Government has announced as part of its clampdown on abuse of the NHS.

New changes to be introduced will include:

  • extending charging for primary care services, such as prescriptions. GP and nurse consultations will remain free, which will mean that everyone will continue to have initial access to prevent risks to public health such as HIV, TB and sexually transmitted infections.
  • other types of primary care services that are being considered for charging include minor surgery that is carried out by a GP and physiotherapy that has been referred through a GP
  • overseas visitors paying higher charges for services that are subsidised for patients entitled to free NHS care. These include optical and dental services which are currently highly subsidised
  • a new system for identifying and recording patients who should be charged for NHS services
  • the introduction of charging for A&E services for visitors and migrants including emergency care.

No one will be turned away in an emergency.

The changes will allow the NHS to recoup money and will create a consistent charging system across the NHS while encouraging only those who need urgent and emergency care to attend
Health Minister Lord Howe said: “Having a universal health service free at the point of use rightly makes us the envy of the world, but we must make sure the system is fair to the hardworking British taxpayers who fund it.

“We know that we need to make changes across the NHS to better identify and charge visitors and migrants. Introducing charging at primary care is the first step to achieving this. We are already looking at taking action and next year we will set out our detailed plans to clamp down on the abuse of our NHS.”

A recent government consultation looked at improving the system for charging visitors and migrants and making more NHS services chargeable, including primary care. The consultation also asked people whether certain services should be exempt, including maternity care.

Howe added: “The overwhelming response from NHS frontline staff was that maternity care must not be provided free for everyone and that we must remain firm.

“Current rules already state that, while services should not be withheld, an overseas visitor identified as chargeable and wishing to receive maternity or antenatal care must pay for any services they receive.”

The announcement follows a Department of Health study which estimated that up to £500 million could be recovered from overseas visitors' and migrants' use of the NHS every year through better charging.

Many changes will start to be introduced over the coming year. Further detail on the timing for implementation will be available in March 2014.