Health Tourism: Your Ailment could cost you thousands in the UK!

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A phone call is all it takes.

That one phone call - a mere 12 digit tap to book you an appointment with your local doctor. Perhaps even a brisk walk to your GP practice or a drive down to the hospital for a life-saving operation. Either arrangement costing you nothing other than your time. If you are a UK resident that is. However, in the case of non-UK nationals, estimates compiled by the NHS in for 2009/10 reported that health tourism was costing the UK service  £2bn ($2.8bn) but other vocal groups estimated that the figure was more likely to be a staggering £12bn ($17bn).  Clearly, the government had to take action.

As of 6 April 2015 (Department of Health guidance paper updated in Feb 2016), anyone who is not a migrant of the European Economic Area (EEA national) who wishes to apply for permission to enter the United Kingdom for more than 6 months, along with those who want to extend their existing limited leave to remain within the UK will face a £200 levy to access the NHS services known as the Immigration Health Surcharge ( IHS). This fee is per annum and per applicant which is a mandatory requirement payable at the application stage. Students, however, face a marginally smaller fee of £150 per annum.

The payment will go directly into the NHS and applicants will be entitled to receive the same cover as a permanent UK resident, but note, you will still have to pay for any subsequent treatments such as eye tests, dental care, and prescriptions.

There is good news, for some, that is. Nationals from Australia and New Zealand will not be charged a fee. Anyone visiting the UK will not be subject to the surcharge, however, if any treatment is received they will be liable to pay 150% of the national tariff costs. With this said, it is important to ensure that you are covered by a personal health insurance, otherwise, you will be charged for the care you receive.

Similarly, EEA nationals will be free from the surcharge and will continue to receive free NHS care using their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) issued by their original country of residence. This enables the NHS to recoup any treatment costs made by the EEA national.

What does this mean for the prospective migrant you ask? Well, another additional expenditure to the existing and increasing precipitous application fees, not to mention the expense of costly legal services. To put this into context hypothetically, a migrant with four dependants applying for a 5 year Tier 2 (General) visa will have to pay an additional £5,000 on top of the customary visa fees. It should also be borne in mind that if the migrant does not use the NHS, the surcharge will not be refunded in any way. A win-win for the NHS?

It is understood that the changes implemented, are part of the NHS's efforts to recoup £500 million a year by 2017 to 2018. However, this raises an interesting issue as to whether the UK are legitimately trying to protect their economy  and the misuse of  NHS services or is this an attempt to disincentive the average migrant from entering the UK. Could this be considered as underlying xenophobia to reduce the numbers of migrants entering the country? 

I invite your thoughts.

About the Author

Fezaa Sheikh studied at the University of Law in London (LLB Law Hons) and completed LLM Masters.  She has a keen interest in immigration, family, criminal law and will be writing regularly for Hospital Advisor on health related matters from a legal perspective.