GPs' cash incentive to shop health tourists

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Family doctors are to be offered cash incentives to "shop" failed asylum-seekers in the latest crackdown on health tourism.

Family doctors are to be offered cash incentives to "shop" failed asylum-seekers in the latest crackdown on health tourism.

Thousands of patients currently treated free of charge will face fees each time they see a GP under proposals to be unveiled this week. To encourage them to root out those not entitled to free care doctors will be told they can keep the money.

GPs' leaders, however, have warned that the initiative is likely to be met with fierce resistance, because doctors would be unwilling to turn away the sick.

Ministers have come under growing pressure to tighten rules after a spate of reports that the NHS is being widely abused. Hospital trusts were told earlier this year to step up checks and do more to recover the costs of treating those found not to be entitled to free care.

Now GPs are to be urged to police their lists more thoroughly as the rules on using the NHS are tightened further. Failed asylum-seekers can consult GPs without paying as long as they have been resident in the UK for more than a year, as almost all have.

John Hutton, the Health minister, is expected to announce moves to close the loophole when he unveils a consultation on health tourism and primary care on Friday. Mr Hutton warned that the current system allowed "scope for potential abuse" when he appeared before MPs earlier this month.

He raised the prospect that new patients might be forced to sign a declaration saying that they are entitled to free NHS care, or pay privately.

Ministers admit that they have no idea how widespread health tourism is or how much it is costing taxpayers, although they will announce a new study in a dozen hospitals in England this week to assess its scale.

But doctors' leaders warned that the incentive of income from private treatment would not persuade most GPs to "shop" destitute failed asylum-seekers.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, deputy chairman of the General Practitioners Committee, told Pulse magazine that many family doctors would be unwilling to turn patients away.

"We are strongly opposed to anything that puts a GP in a situation where he asks people who do not have any money to pay."

* David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has been told that his measures to prevent people from the new EU countries claiming benefits are "disproportionate and strewn with risk". The Social Security Advisory Committee, a technical parliamentary body, warns that Mr Blunkett's "blanket approach" threatens administrative chaos.

The Home Secretary already faces a series of court challenges over the policy, which could see hundreds of failed asylum-seekers from accession countries evicted from council housing in the coming weeks.

David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, said the new report showed that the Government's policies on immigration had "descended into sheer farce".

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