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Former health minister Norman Lamb wants to charge overseas visitors for NHS use - but warns safeguards must be in place

PUBLISHED: 10:43 06 February 2017 | UPDATED: 10:45 06 February 2017

Norman Lamb, North Norfolk MP and former health minister, has called for mental health services to be better funded. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Norman Lamb, North Norfolk MP and former health minister, has called for mental health services to be better funded. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

The Press Association

Former health minister Norman Lamb has backed the principle of charging overseas patients for non-urgent NHS care amid government plans to make it a legal duty.

The Liberal Democrat MP said health tourism should be “properly addressed”, but also claimed it was not particularly significant in terms of overall funding of the NHS.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt is set to announce that foreign patients could be refused operations unless they cover their costs in advance - a move he says could raise £500m a year by the middle of the parliament.

But emergency treatment will still be provided and a bill will be sent later.

Mr Lamb, who is his party’s health spokesman, said: “The principle that those not eligible for free NHS care should pay up front for non-urgent care is sound, but there must be very clear safeguards in place to protect vulnerable people, such as the homeless, who can’t prove their right to treatment. We must also guard against any temptation to extend this policy to urgent treatment.

“Health tourism should be properly addressed but it is not particularly significant in terms of the overall funding of the NHS. This announcement cannot mask the government’s refusal to address the serious failures of care which are now routine across the NHS as a result of impossible financial pressures the system is under. The Government needs to tackle important problems like staff shortages and a lack of social care. It reflects a warped sense of priorities.”

The former health minister met prime minister Theresa May last week to discuss the funding crisis in the NHS and said he hoped it would lead to a “genuine process to deliver a long term settlement for the NHS and social care”.

“Ultimately, the NHS must not lose its humanity and compassion,” he said.

The Public Accounts Committee said last week that the system of recovering costs from overseas visitors was “chaotic”.

Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chairman, said there was no detail as to how upfront charging would be introduced from scratch in just three months.

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