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Ensure eligibility is verified before issuing new NHS numbers

We will ensure that new NHS numbers are not issued to patients until their eligibility has been verified.

Our Verdict

“Health tourism” – people coming to the UK deliberately to access NHS services to which they are not entitled for free – has been estimated to cost up to £300 million each year. This pledge is aimed at reducing that cost. It is one of three policies (see “Related policies” below) targeting the free use of the NHS by those who are not normally resident in the UK.

Under this government, regulatory changes were made in October 2017 which require NHS trusts to ensure patients are eligible for free care, and it became a legal requirement to make patients pay in advance if they are ineligible. The “ordinary residence tool” was devised to help determine the eligibility of patients.

The new charging scheme was controversial from the outset, with various bodies arguing that it would negatively impact on NHS staff and patients.

In response, just six weeks after launching the regulations, the government initiated a review of the changes. That was completed in December 2018, but the government has refused to publish the outcome of its review. So, in June 2019, the Health and Social Care Committee opened an inquiry into the government’s review.

Checks have been introduced, but whether they “ensure eligibility is verified” is hard to say until the government publishes its review. As the select committee chair has said, regarding the impact of the new regulations:

“We find ourselves unable to judge…since neither the review nor the evidence provided to it has been published.”

For now, this remains ‘in progress’. We’ll keep tracking for developments at the inquiry and any related evidence, so follow this policy for updates.

Verify the details

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