London: Foreign patients from countries like India will be charged upfront if they use UK’s state-funded National Health Service (NHS) from April, in a new clampdown on so-called health tourists, the health secretary said on Monday.

The new rules, expected to save Britain £500 million, will apply to non-emergency treatments as part of a clampdown on so-called health tourists who have so far been able to leave the country without paying for such treatments.

“We have no problem with overseas visitors using our NHS– as long as they make a fair contribution, just as the British taxpayer does," UK health secretary Jeremy Hunt said.

“So today we are announcing plans to change the law which means those who aren’t eligible for free care will be asked to pay upfront for non-urgent treatment. We aim to recover up to £500 million a year by the middle of this Parliament – money that can then be reinvested in patient care," he said.

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Tourists to the UK have always been expected to pay for NHS treatments but were billed only after the procedure, leading to a large unpaid bill for the taxpayer-funded health service. The new pre-payment process will be enforced to tackle this problem.

It will be up to individual NHS Trusts to work out whether they take a payment there and then or allow patients to sign a form to agree to a longer-term payment plan. The NHS will check eligibility by asking people to produce two forms of identification – such as a passport and a utility bill with a UK address.

Under the new plans, anyone from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) – which includes Indians – staying in the UK for longer than six months will also not be eligible for free fertility treatment on the NHS.

Those needing urgent care will still be treated immediately as part of the Accident & Emergency (A&E) services provided by the NHS. Such emergency patients will be invoiced later if they are found to be non-UK taxpayers and, therefore, not eligible for free care in the country.

The announcement came as a survey by Ipsos MORI of 1,033 adults for the BBC suggested three-quarters of the British public want to see charges increased for people coming from abroad as a way of raising more money for the NHS. PTI

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