On 20 July 2009, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen) announced the outcome of the joint Department of Health and UK Border Agency review of the rules on migrants’ access to the national health service in England. As part of a balanced package of measures to rationalise and reform the present NHS charging arrangements, my hon. Friend signalled our intention to consult publicly on significant proposals for change emerging from the review, including action to protect the NHS from misuse by a minority of foreign nationals who are charged for using our public health services but default on their debts. Proposals to tackle the problem of “health tourism” sit alongside a broader range of measures to protect the interests of vulnerable individuals.
In taking forward this commitment, I have today published a public consultation on a proposal to change the immigration rules to provide for the first time that debt to the NHS above a prescribed amount will constitute grounds for refusal of permission to enter and stay in the United Kingdom for those subject to immigration control. The Government believe that those who take advantage of our hospitality should respect that hospitality or face consequences. The consultation sets out how the UK Border Agency would work in partnership with NHS to administer these new arrangements. The new immigration rule would supplement existing work by UK Border Agency officers at ports of entry to identify and remove visitors seeking to conceal an intention to enter the UK for the purpose of accessing NHS services. The period for responding to the consultation will run until 28 May 2010, and I have placed copies of the consultation documentation, together with regulatory and equality impact assessments, in the Vote Office and in the Library of the House.