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22 January 2013
GPs can exercise theirdiscretion to accept overseas visitors as fully registered NHS patients, or as temporary residents if they are only in the area for three months or less, according to government guidance, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) said today.
The MDU issued the advice in response to a recent survey of 229 GPs who felt ‘confused and frustrated by the lack of clarity around NHS entitlements and what checks practices should carry out on new patients registering for care’. 1
Dr Wendy Pugh, MDU medico-legal adviser, said:
“GPs are able to register and treat, free of charge, overseas visitors or migrants at their discretion. However, any decision not to accept an application from an overseas visitor for inclusion on a GP’s list must be based on reasonable grounds and not discriminatory2. GPs also have a contractual duty to provide immediately necessary treatment as well as an ethical duty to treat in an emergency, regardless of whether the person is an overseas visitor or registered with the practice.
“Department of Health guidance on this issue states that being registered with a GP, or having an NHS number, does not give a person automatic entitlement to access free NHS hospital treatment3. With this in mind, if a GP feels it is necessary to refer a temporary patient for hospital treatment, he or she should make it clear in the referral letter that they believe the patient is visiting from overseas so that the relevant NHS body can check whether the patient is entitled to free NHS hospital care.
“If treating an overseas visitor, the GP will not have access to the patient’s records so it is important to take a full medical history, including any underlying health conditions, allergies, medication regimes and dosages.
“There appears to be some confusion among GPs about this issue and we occasionally receive calls from members with queries about patient’s entitlement for treatment. Doctors with concerns can contact their medical defence organisation for advice.”