GP leaders claim charging non-EU migrants to use the NHS will only add to the “huge workload pressure the NHS is already facing”.
Earlier this week the government suggested that overseas visitors staying in the UK for less than six months should pay a ‘levy’ on NHS use.
The government is unsure how much the NHS spends on treating migrants, yet has proposed a minimum sum of £200 per year to access treatment, including visiting general practice.
The payment system could be linked to the NHS number, meaning GPs would have to check the status of an individual to ensure they do not offer free treatment to those who are not entitled.
But Dr Laurence Buckman, chair of the British Medical Association’s (BMA) GP Committee said he is against the measures.
He said: “The BMA would strongly oppose any system where GPs are required to act as UK Border Force agents and enforce immigration checks.
“Doctors should spend their time treating patients and not acting as the arbitrators of whether patients are eligible to receive NHS care.”
Yet Dr Buckman did accept that NHS resources should be used “appropriately”, with mechanisms in place to recoup costs from countries whose citizens use the NHS.
“We need to have a better understanding of the scale of the problem and a thorough impact assessment should be carried out before we introduce changes that could tie the NHS in more red tape,” he said.
And Dr Vivienne Nathanson, director of BMA Professional Activities agreed. She said: “We need to ensure that financial considerations are balanced with a doctor’s ethical obligation to meet the needs of patients, irrespective of their immigration status, and that safeguards exist to protect vulnerable individuals.”
Sexual health services and infection control will continue to be free on the NHS in order to maintain public health.