Britain closing the door on free health care for foreigners
LONDON (AFP) - The British government is to announce measures Tuesday to stamp out "health tourism" whereby foreigners come to Britain to take advantage of free health care, Health Secretary John Reid said.
In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, Reid said it was unfair for foreigners to come to Britain to tap into the National Health Service (NHS), which nominally guarantees free care for all.
"If there are emergencies here, and there are bone fide tourists dropping ill on the street, of course we will do what we have to do morally and legally," he said.
"But we are not mugs. There is a difference between being civilised and being taken for a ride."
Health tourism is said to cost the state-run NHS an estimated 200 million pounds (285 million euros, 354 million dollars) a year.
Cases include women who come to Britain on a six-month holiday visa when they are more than 34 weeks pregnant, then giving birth at an NHS hospital without paying a penny, the Sunday Telegraph said.
"Every time that happens, somebody has to wait a little longer, often in pain to get the service to which they are entitled," said Reid, who is charged by Prime Minister Tony Blair (news - web sites) with whipping the NHS back into shape.
Under proposals to be announced Tuesday, free care will be denied to business travellers and their dependents, failed asylum applicants, and HIV (news - web sites) sufferers seeking long-term expensive treatment, the Sunday Telegraph said. Genuine emergency cases will remain exempt from charges.
"The starting point I have is that the NHS is first and foremost for the benefit of those living in the United Kingdom," Reid told the newspaper. "Visitors need to know that they will be liable to be charged for treatment."
Commenting on the Sunday Telegraph report, a Department of Health spokesman said: "The full details will be announced on Tuesday. We are going to look at changing the rules."