UK patients may need ID to access some NHS services
Health officials are examining whether patients should have to show proof of identity to receive some forms of NHS care.
The Department of Health (DH) said it is studying methods of proving identity already used in the NHS to claw back money from overseas patients.
Chris Wormald, permanent secretary at the DH, told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that the NHS has got a ‘lot further to go’ to reclaim such money.
Mr Wormald admitted that identifying people who should be charged for elements of NHS care is challenging.
Some trusts are trialling a system of asking patients to bring proof of identity before getting some elements of care, he said.
He added that the DH is looking into whether more trusts should go down this route.
‘Some trusts are looking at asking for two forms of ID before treatment,’ Mr Wormald said.
‘This is obviously a controversial thing to do, but in terms of “how do you get the numbers up” these are the kinds of things we want to look at.
‘We do not yet have evaluated results, but the trusts are reporting that this leads to an increase in identification.’
However, PAC chairwoman Meg Hillier expressed concern about British residents who have no photo ID and those who would struggle to find utility bills.
She said such people are ‘perfectly entitled to health care, [being] British born and British resident’.
She asked: ‘How are you going to make sure that people have access easily to the NHS without having to go through a humiliating and impossible-to-meet set of demands?’
Mr Wormald replied: ‘This is why we are going slowly on some of these questions and individual trusts are trying [methods] out.’
Different rules apply to the charging of visitors from the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland, and to those from outside the EEA.
Visitors from the EEA are usually covered by agreements obliging their home countryies to pay for their treatment.
But there are big differences between the amount of money other European countries claim from the UK and the amount the UK pays out, the committee heard.
Drawing on official figures released earlier this year, the committee showed that, in 2014-15, £674 million was charged to the UK government for the care of British citizens abroad.
In comparison, the amount charged for the care of EEA nationals in British hospitals was £49 million.
Mr Wormald said the disparity is due to the large number of UK pensioners living abroad.
There are 62 Spanish pensioners living in the UK compared with 70,000 British retirees living in Spain, he said.
Mr Wormald's comments follow a report published last month from the National Audit Office, which states that nurses have an ‘important role’ in deciding whether overseas patients should be charged and if they need immediate care.
As the watchdog conceded, however, clinicians are concerned that the programme to tackle ‘health tourism’ could deter people from seeking care.
Nursing Standard readers voiced concerns over what role, if any, they should play in deciding whether overseas patients should be charged for NHS care.
On Nursing Standard’s Facebook page Vicki Cheney wrote: ‘My role is to report and document overseas patients, but the cost implications are the responsibility of higher management. My sole responsibility is the well-being of patients in my care.’