Foreigners seeking treatment on the National Health Service will be charged in advance under plans to stamp out "health tourism", which is estimated to cost Britain up to £200m a year.
Ministers will announce proposals tomorrow to close loopholes allowing foreign business travellers, failed asylum-seekers and other visitors from abroad claiming complex and costly treatment on the NHS.
John Reid, the Secretary of State for Health, insisted yesterday that he had to stamp out the practice to stop foreigners taking the health service "for a ride". He said: "It is just not fair for people to come here intent on abusing the system and effectively using assets to which they are not entitled.
"Every time that happens someone else has to wait a little longer, often in pain, to get the services to which they are entitled. Of course, we are a civilised nation, we will do what we have to do morally and under international law, but we are not mugs. We will not allow people in this country to be taken for a ride."
Examples of abuses include women coming to Britain on a six-month holiday visa when they are more than 34 weeks pregnant to give birth free of charge on the NHS.
In another case, a sports commentator who came to Britain for a month brought his son with him for complex treatment on the NHS.
Mr Reid told The Sunday Telegraph that the changes would not prevent tourists and other visitors who fell ill while in Britain from receiving emergency treatment. But he insisted that the Government had to crack down on people who used the NHS for routine operations, lengthening waiting lists for other patients.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "The full details will be announced on Tuesday. We are going to look at changing the rules."
A consultation document published earlier this year proposed detailed reforms to close loopholes allowing foreign nationals to claim free treatment while staying in Britain.
News of the crackdown follows criticism by Baroness Boothroyd, the former speaker of the House of Commons, who attacked the "scandal" of health tourists "milking" the NHS of up to £200m a year.
Liam Fox, co-chairman of the Conservative Party, condemned the Government for failing to tackle the problem. He said: "This is typical of the way New Labour tries to capture headlines. Nothing Labour has done has done anything to reduce the burden of health tourism.
"They should apologise for their failure rather than hide behind shabby rhetoric. NHS patients don't want to be second-class citizens in their own health service."Reuse content