About us

Are you entitled to free NHS care?

25 May 2012

Health Care

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."