January 2012 - Charging for Hospital Care
The government has now introduced the new National Health Service (Charges to Overseas Visitors) Regulations 2011. The regulations only apply to hospital services and only to someone who is not ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK.
Ordinarily resident basically means living in the UK lawfully, voluntarily and properly settled basis for the time being. A person does not become ordinarily resident simply by having British nationality or being registered with a GP. In addition to ordinary residence, some individuals are exempt from charges such as refugees, asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers supported by the UK Border Agency.
The regulations also exempt particular services from charging and these mirror many of the previous exemptions including accident and emergency services, family planning, treatment for specified diseases on public health grounds as well as sexually transmitted diseases and treatment under the Mental Health Act 1983. Note the above exemptions do not cover HIV treatment except for the initial diagnostic test and associated counselling.
NHS treatment should not be withheld from individuals subject to charging where they need ‘immediate necessary treatment’ and this includes saving their life or preventing a condition from becoming immediately life threatening. All maternity services are to be treated as immediately necessary. Individuals who receive ‘immediately necessary’ treatment may still be charged.
When it comes to pursuing debt, the guidance advises that the NHS should take all reasonable steps to recover the debt but where these have been unsuccessful or would not be cost-effective, the debt may be written off.
The government is still considering options to restrict entry to the UK for those without medical insurance or who have an unpaid NHS debt.
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