UK ‘compliant’ with EU immigration standards for health care in effort to attract medical tourists

It might be a sanctuary for birdwatchers, but much of the UK is already the European destination of the sick and dying.

As England, Wales and Northern Ireland get ready to meet international medical tourism standards set by the European Commission, Human Rights Watch and the British Medical Association urge the UK government to work together to avoid “another ugly chapter” for people in need of medical care in the country.

Some 85,000 people visited the UK to receive treatment in 2014, according to figures released last year by the UK Statistics Authority. More than half of them came from Europe, including 22,000 from Germany, and most from Scotland and Ireland.

The cost of the medical bills for the people who paid can run into millions of pounds, and many of them apply for loans through their home countries’ health care systems. As with other EU countries, the UK provides health care to the neediest as part of the Common Health Care Act in 1973. It also offers patients with no insurance a state-subsidized treatment at NHS facilities, which include much of England, and some parts of Wales and Northern Ireland.

British visitors are allowed to travel to other EU countries to be treated by their doctors, but are not entitled to NHS treatment. More than a third of NHS care in England is paid for by taxpayers.

Last month, the Human Rights Watch and the British Medical Association published a document to help overcome barriers and misunderstanding so that all EU visitors can access NHS care without being pushed into more expensive or less effective private care.

However, the report was swiftly condemned by the British Medical Association, which called it an “insult to all EU patients.” It said it was premature to begin imposing penalties for tourists not accessing NHS care, which it said was a precondition for implementing the Medical Passport Directive as written. The directive prescribes certain conditions under which patients are able to use the NHS, including having insurance coverage.

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