G20, Europe prepare for Greek election shock

Time restrictions on NHS eligibility set to be lengthened

BRITISH expats may soon have greater access to NHS care, despite recent media reports claiming that pensioners who live abroad were set to be denied free treatment by the health service.

Currently, expats based in Cyprus are not eligible to free NHS care if they spend more than three months a year away from the UK, but that is now set to be extended.

The good news comes after the British government promised a crack-down after hospitals were told to charge patients who were found not to be resident in Britain or from countries with reciprocal arrangements.

A confidential internal report on health tourism leaked last year estimated that the bill for treating foreign patients, many so-called ‘health tourists’ amounted to at least £62 million a year.

Now, the British Government is proposing that the period of absence for current UK resident’s eligibility for free NHS hospital treatment in England is extended from three to up to six months.

The proposed changes come after an increasing trend of Britons spending longer periods overseas and are designed to protect the rights of British citizens who travel abroad whilst still residing substantively in the United Kingdom.

However, only treatment for emergencies - such as heart attacks, accidents or sudden illness - will still be free at anytime.

The proposals were confirmed by a NHS spokesman in an interview with the Sunday Mail.

“UK state pension holders living overseas are exempt from charges if they need treatment during their visit to the UK. This does not include pre-planned treatment.

“A UK state pensioner living overseas who then resumes their permanent residence in the UK is exempt from charges for all hospital treatment, including pre-planned treatment, from day one. They should be prepared to show evidence to a hospital that they have returned permanently,” he said.

Strict limits of access to the NHS were introduced in 2004 by John Reid. The then Health Secretary described his reforms as designed to make the NHS "a British service for people who live in Britain".

A similar tone was given by the NHS spokesman last week, who told the Sunday Mail, the NHS is primarily a concern for British residents.

“The NHS is first and foremost for the benefit of people who live in the United Kingdom. People who are not ordinarily resident here are not automatically entitled to access free NHS hospital treatment. This has nothing to do with nationality or payment of taxes. The regulations on charging for overseas visitors have been in place since 1989, so the basic principles are not new, but have been in operation for some 20 years.”

As it stands, entitlement to free NHS hospital treatment is based on "ordinary residence" in the UK and anyone who leaves the UK for three months is no longer automatically entitled to free NHS treatment.

By Nathan Morley, Cyprus Mail, September 13, 2009

|||Better access to UK NHS for expats
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