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NHS to share foreigners' data with border agency

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The government has said it will introduce new processes to share data about foreign nationals who have outstanding debts for NHS treatment with the UK Border Agency.

The move is part of a package of measures aimed at reducing health tourism that will see those who owe the NHS more than £1,000 barred from entering the UK, from an extension of their stay, or gaining citizenship.

Responding to a Department of Health consultation on access to hospital care by foreign nationals, the government has said that new facilities will be brought in "as soon as practical" after new immigration rules are introduced by the Home Office.

166 people responded to the consultation, of whom 83 were members of the public or healthcare professionals. The other 83 were from organisations, including the British Medical Association and migrant welfare groups. Some respondents stressed the importance of ensuring that any data shared does not include clinical information. The government said it will ensure that any process for data sharing respects these concerns and is secure and compliant with data protection law.

In a statement to Parliament, Health minister Anne Milton said: "The NHS has a duty to anyone whose life or long-term health is at immediate risk, but we cannot afford to become an international health service, providing free treatment for all.

"These changes will begin the process of developing a clearer, robust and fairer system of access to free NHS services which our review of the charging system will complete. I want to see a system which maintains the confidence of the public while preventing inappropriate free access and continuing our commitment to human rights and protecting vulnerable groups."

She added that the NHS started charging those who are not ordinarily resident for treatment in 1982, although the UK has reciprocal arrangements with many countries allowing their residents to receive healthcare on the same terms as Britons.

Emergency treatment will continue to be provided irrespective of status or ability to pay, Milton said. The government will also allow failed asylum seekers on UK Border Agency support schemes, those who have a barrier to their return, and unaccompanied children under local authority care, to continue to receive free hospital care. However, she added that failed asylum seekers who refuse to return to countries of origin will be barred from free care.

Immigration minister Damian Green added: "The NHS is a national health service not an international one. If someone does not pay for their treatment we will not let them back into the country. We need robust controls to protect our public services."

This article was originally published at Guardian Professional Healthcare Network.

Guardian Healthcare Network is a division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of healthcare. For updates on NHS innovation, join the Guardian Healthcare Network here.

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