Last reviewed 31 October 2013

The Department of Health (DH) has issued updated guidance on implementing the National Health Service (Charges to Overseas Visitors) Regulations 2011 for hospital charging in England, including information about the responsibilities of GPs and the interface between primary and secondary care.

GP services are excluded from the overseas visitor regulations. However, the guidance on their implementation sets out the current situation for GPs, who have the discretion to accept any person, including overseas visitors, to be registered either fully as an NHS patient, or as a temporary resident if they are to be in an area between 24 hours and 3 months.

The guidance reiterates that there is no minimum period that a person needs to have been in the UK before a GP can register them, and GPs have a duty to give free treatment that they consider to be immediately necessary or an emergency, regardless of whether that patient is an overseas visitor or registered with that practice.

However, the guidance stresses how important it is that GPs understand that being registered with a GP, or having a NHS number, does not give a person automatic entitlement to access free NHS hospital treatment. GPs must not unintentionally misinform their patients on this issue, and should identify in the referral letter any patient whom they believe may be an overseas visitor so that the relevant NHS body can then make checks.

GP practices can contact the Local Area Team of NHS England with any queries regarding this.

The guidance also recommends that GP surgeries display the posters regarding entitlement to free hospital treatment.

The updated Guidance on Overseas Visitors Hospital Charging Regulations is available on gov.uk.