Doctors call for charges for overseas patients using A&E units  

More than six in ten doctors want to introduce charges for some patients, including fees for overseas patients attending Accident and Emergency units, a survey shows.

Ministers recently introduced “upfront” hospital charges for patients receiving planned treatment, if they are not eligible for free care.

The Government has also proposed charges for such patients in Accident & Emergency (A&E) units, but have so far held off introducing such plans following a backlash from some groups.

But polling of 583 doctors found that 63 per cent of doctors wanted to see some charges on patients introduced.

Of those, 74 per cent called for fees for patients who visit A&E or GP clinics who are not residents of the UK. As many called for charges for patients who did not turn up to their appointments.

Ministers are currently considering whether to introduce charges for overseas patients using A&E.

They are understood to have ruled out introducing “upfront” charges for A&E, in case it could deter those needing urgent care.

However, they are now exploring the feasibility of schemes to secure payment after emergency treatment, for those overseas patients who were not entitled to free care.

Health Minister Lord O’Shaughnessy said: “The NHS is a cherished national institution that is paid for by British taxpayers and as this survey shows, there is clinical support for recovering costs from those who are not eligible for free treatment.

“We are however committed to an NHS that is free at the point of use for those who are eligible, and they will never be charged for NHS treatment.”

Since 2013, the amount of funds recouped from overseas patients for planned care has more than quadrupled, from £89m to £358m, offiical figures show.

GP visits are also excluded from current policies, which is expected to remain the case in future.

Dr Taj Hassan, President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine said any introduction of A&E charges must not involve casualty staff, or attempts to secure payment while urgent care was being sought.

“Staff working in the busy environment of the emergency department cannot be responsible for charging patients who present acutely unwell or injured, and would always treat them first and foremost according to their need,” he said.

“If hospital systems could be structured to collect payments from those not eligible to use the NHS, then it would be appropriate to do so.”

The poll showed doctors were increasingly open to more radical ideas of how to fund a service which was struggling with current funding, he said.

The poll also found that more than a third of those backing charges wanted to see them for A&E visits as a result of alcohol abuse.

And 29 per cent wanted to see charges when attendances were linked to drug problems, the poll by website Doctors.net and technology agency M3 Group found.

Andrew Misell, a director at Alcohol Concern, said: “Charging people for alcohol-related use of the NHS is unworkable and morally questionable.”

He also suggested it would too difficult in practical terms for medical staff to decide whether problems were alcohol-fuelled.

“If we say people should be charged for alcohol-related demands on the NHS, why not start charging for anything else we’ve done to ourselves, like broken bones from driving carelessly or playing a contact sport?” he said.

Simon Walker, director of education at M3 Group, said: “The findings of this research clearly reflects funding pressures currently experienced by the NHS.  

“Despite the fundamental ‘free at the point of delivery’ principle, the majority of NHS doctor respondents indicated that they can now see circumstances in which patients pay towards GP or hospital treatment.”

NHS to ask patients for bank statements to check they live in Britain

Health officials are considering expanding current policies on charging overseas patients 

Credit:
Dominic Lipinski 

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