‘Simple and effective’

'Simple and effective'Emergency treatment would still be free at the point of delivery to all, while migrants would be eligible for free NHS care once they had worked for five years and paid tax and national insurance on their income.

Asking migrants to pay for care through private insurance is one option currently being looked by the government as part of its efforts to get non-EU nationals to make a proper contribution towards the cost of treatment.

Another idea being considered, as part of a consultation launched in July, is to require migrants to pay a levy of £200 when they apply for a visa of more than six months.

Residency rules could also be tightened on free treatment, with only those granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK entitled to free care, while more services, such as access to GPs, would be chargeable.

Separately, the Department of Health is reviewing how hospitals can more effectively recover money and enforce charges – with ministers acknowledging that current procedures are “flawed”.

The Department of Health has said the cost of treating foreigners is at least £30m a year for the NHS in England alone, although practitioners have said the figure could be much higher.

However, GPs have expressed concerns about being asked to enforce any new rules, saying their duty is to the patient and not to establishing their immigration or financial status.

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