Last reviewed 22 October 2013

The Immigration Bill, announced by home secretary Theresa May, includes new measures to crack down on “health tourism”, including requiring GPs to vet the migration status of new patients and forcing temporary migrants such as overseas students to make a contribution to the NHS, including for access to general practice.

In the government consultation on the draft Bill earlier this year, a levy of between £200 and £500 per year to access both routine and emergency NHS services was suggested.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said the plans were unlikely to be cost-effective because of the additional work involved in setting up new systems to check immigration status. BMA general practitioners committee deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey told BBC Radio 5 live that there was already a system in place for hospitals to recover the cost of treating patients who are ineligible for NHS care, warning: “Clearly that could be improved, but introducing a system for general practice could be a bureaucratic nightmare. The reality is people don’t come to the UK to use the NHS; they’re more likely to come to work in the NHS.”

Harrow GP Dr David Lloyd told Sky News that the changes would mean doctors would have to act like Border Agency staff. He said: “There is an awful lot more paperwork involved so we have got to spend an awful lot more time checking on people at a time when they are at their most vulnerable.”

Royal College of GPs (RCGP) chair Professor Clare Gerada called the plans “regressive”, and said they would make migrants less likely to seek care at an early stage. In a statement she said: “Limiting access to NHS services will fundamentally change one of the founding principles of general practice: that healthcare is free at the point of need. The implications for public health are very real. This will inevitably deter people from seeking medical help in the early stages of illness when they can be dealt with cost-effectively and efficiently in primary care, rather than requiring expensive specialist care and increasing admissions to emergency departments.

“We also strongly oppose the extra administrative responsibilities for GPs and practice staff that would be created as a result of these proposals, which will impact on all patients... These proposals outlined in this consultation would both compound the already unsustainable pressures facing GPs and practice staff and limit the ability of GPs to protect and promote the health of their patients and the public.”

Immigration minister Mark Harper said the Immigration Bill would prevent migrants from using public services to which they are not entitled, reduce the “pull factors which encourage people to come to the UK” and make it easier to remove people.