Migrants and overseas visitors 'to be charged for health services'
Overseas visitors and migrants will be charged for using most GP services, plus receiving A&E and ambulance care under new plans drawn up by the Government.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the proposed changes to be introduced in 2017 would "recover up to £500 million per year to put back into frontline patient care".
A consultation will be launched on Monday, led by the Government's independent adviser on cost recovery Sir Keith Pearson to run until March 6, next year.
Migrants and foreign visitors currently pay for some NHS services such as non-urgent operations, in-patient treatment, plus follow-up care received as an out-patient.
Under the proposed new plans, charging will be extended, requiring overseas visitors and migrants to pay for care from GPs, including diagnostic tests and scans, plus A&E and ambulance care services to save £500m a year by 2018.
The Government said the changes would make sure those who do not pay for NHS care through their taxes make a "fair contribution" to services.
Mr Hunt said: "We want to make sure that everyone makes a fair contribution to services, by extending charging to make sure visitors pay for the care they receive.
"This Government was the first to introduce tough measures to clampdown on migrants accessing the NHS and these changes will recover up to £500 million per year to put back into frontline patient care."
GP and nurse consultations will remain free for overseas visitors to protect the wider public's health, the Department of Health said, but overseas visitors will be charged for GP-led services such as x-rays, diagnostic tests, physiotherapy, blood tests, lung function tests, prescriptions, plus dental treatment and eye care costs.
Emergency care will still be provided under the proposals, without the need to seek prior payment, a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or proof of residency, but NHS healthcare will "remain chargeable", the DoH added.
A&E care to be charged will include, filling wounds, draining fluids, x-rays, setting broken bones and intensive care in A&E before being admitted, while charges will be made for ambulance care received from paramedics and transport costs.
Vulnerable groups, such as refugees and asylum seekers, will continue to be exempt from charging, the Government said.
Sir Keith said: "Extending charging of overseas visitors and migrants to other parts of the NHS healthcare system will make it easier for the NHS as a whole to fairly charge patients who are not entitled to free care."
The Government said residents from countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) who have an EHIC would continue to receive NHS care and costs would be recovered from their home country, while visitors from the EEA without a card and those from outside the EEA would be charged directly.
Since being introduced in April this year, the DoH said the international health surcharge had recovered more than £100 million.
It added the EHIC incentive, where NHS hospitals receive an extra 25% on top of the cost of every procedure they perform for an EEA migrant or visitor with an EHIC and can charge short term visitors from outside Europe 150% of the cost of treatment, had seen costs recovered via EHICs increase to £10.9 million between October 2014 and October 2015, compared to £5.8 million and £4.7 million in the previous two years.
Shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne warned against burdening NHS staff with "even more work", adding that previous Government announcements had proved "completely unworkable".
He said: "It's right that abuse in the NHS is tackled and that people who are not eligible for free care are asked to pay the money they owe.
"But the Tories need to stop using over-blown rhetoric and making unrealistic claims. NHS staff should be confident that they are allowed to treat patients first in an emergency, rather than issuing them an invoice.
"The truth is this is not the first time ministers have made such an announcement. Over the last five years the Government has repeatedly announced policies that might sound good on paper, but prove to be completely unworkable.
"We need a proper consultation on these plans to ensure they don't lumber NHS staff with even more work."