Are you entitled to free NHS care?
25 May 2012
Patients attending Southend University Hospital for treatment are being advised they may be asked to provide proof of entitlement to free NHS care.
With the Olympics, Jubilee celebrations and the growth of
Southend Airport, the number of overseas visitors seeking treatment
is expected to increase and the hospital has introduced robust
controls to ensure that patients are charged where appropriate.
This follows new Department of Health regulations which came
into force last year, designed to protect the NHS from
inappropriate free access.
Julie Alabaster, private and overseas business manager at the
hospital, said: "Patients attending for a new course of treatment
may be asked to provide proof of identity and where they live.
Being in possession of a British passport or an NHS number does not
automatically entitle someone to free hospital care. Neither does
owning a property in the UK, having British nationality or having
paid National Insurance contributions and taxes in the UK.
"NHS hospital treatment is dependent on a patients being
'ordinarily resident' which means they must be living lawfully on a
properly settled basis in the UK.
"We work closely with a number of external agencies, including
the Home Office and UK Border Agency and can make a number of other
checks to verify a patient is entitled to free hospital care.
Anyone suspected of being an overseas visitor will be thoroughly
investigated. We are protecting the Trust's resources for the
people who are entitled to free healthcare."
Anyone who owes more than £1,000 in unpaid NHS hospital charges
will be identified to the UK Border Agency and will not be allowed
to come or stay in theUKuntil the debt is paid off.
Some NHS services - such as Accident and Emergency treatment -
are provided free of charge, regardless of the status of the
patient. However, that exemption stops when a patient is admitted
to a hospital ward or given an outpatient appointment.
Julie said: "Every NHS Trust has a legal obligation to identify
and charge overseas patients so that vital income is recovered. Our
front-line staff will be asking how long patients have lived in
theUK. Any new registrations will be looked into and patients could
be asked to provide evidence of eligibility."
Department of Health posters advising patients of the law are
being displayed throughout the hospital.
Patients visiting from EU countries will be asked for their
European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) which enables the hospital to
claim the full treatment cost back from the member country.
Julie added: "The onus is on the patient to prove they are
eligible, not on the hospital to prove they are not.
"We need to maintain the confidence of the public and prevent
inappropriate free access to NHS services."