NHS charges for migrants 'risk public health' doctors warn
Doctors today warned that any new charges to use the NHS could put public health at risk, as the government drops plans to charge migrants for GP services.
With days to go before work restrictions are dropped on Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants, ministers say they have abandoned plans to charge migrants from outside the EU for routine treatment at doctor’s surgeries.
Some services such as minor eye surgery conducted by GPs and other NHS services including some emergency services will face new charges however.
The government were today accused of panicking over the issue.
"This is yet another panic measure," chairman of the Home Affairs select committee Keith Vaz MP said. It is a last minute attempt to try and deal with a situation that needs to be looked at very carefully and dealt with on the issue of principle. Short-term measures that are brought into effect and then suddenly change at the last minute is just not helpful in the way in which we conduct our migration policy."
Doctors warned that any new charges could pose a serious health risk if sick migrants are discouraged from seeking care.
"We cannot have a situation where any patient with a serious health need is deterred from visiting a GP, especially if their condition raises a potential public health risk," Dr Chaand Nagpaul, who leads the British Medical Association's GP committee, said.
They also warned that the charges could be hugely costly to administer.
"The government's current proposals could create unintended drawbacks for the NHS and patients," chairman of the BMA council Dr Mark Porter said.
"They are likely to create a complex patchwork of charging and access entitlements where some services remain free, such as GP appointments, while others will be chargeable, including A&E visits and other services provided via many GP practices, such as physiotherapy."
The government today defended the new charges.
"These measures go further than any previous government to make sure the NHS is fair for the British families it was set up to serve," a spokesperson said.
"This is a common-sense approach that will protect against public health risks, deter abuse and raise vital funds for NHS services."
The u-turn comes as Conservative activists put pressure on David Cameron to extend existing controls on Bulgarians and Romanian immigrants beyond January 1st.
Conservative Grassroots, a network of party members, has written to the prime minister urging him to use a safeguard clause in EU law which they believe could extend the controls to 2018.
A senior Conservative MP today dismissed these calls as unworkable.
"The reality is that we are not a majority party in the House of Commons, so the Conservative party would not be able to get through the Commons some of the things we would like to do in changing our relationship with the European Union," justice secretary Chris Grayling told the Today programme.