A clampdown on "health tourism" by foreigners who visit Britain for NHS treatment was announced by ministers yesterday.
Compulsory health insurance for visitors, refusal of treatment to failed asylum-seekers who do not co-operate with the authorities, and a ban on entry for foreigners who have outstanding debts for previous NHS treatment are among measures proposed.
The Department of Health said the measures could save between £6m and £20m over five years. Emergency treatment and treatment for infectious diseases would remain free for all. The measures were condemned by human rights organisations but received a qualified welcome from the British Medical Association, which has previously refused to countenance the denial of treatment to patients in need.
A spokesman said: "The BMA appreciates that the NHS does not have infinite resources and that there is a need to restrict services to patients who are eligible to receive them. However, we will seek assurances from the Department of Health that, where there is genuine clinical need, doctors will have the discretion to provide treatment, irrespective of an individual's immigration status."