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In the dark on foreigner checks

Dentists are still in the dark about the extra checks they must carry out on foreigners, despite the passing of the Immigration Act.

The controversial legislation – a crackdown on so-called ‘health tourism’ – was among bills that received Royal Assent as Parliament shut down, in mid-May.

Overseas visitors will be required to pay higher charges than the 'highly subsidised' fees for British patients entitled to NHS care, ministers have vowed.

Full details of how the plan will work – for dental and optical services – were promised in March, with the changes to be introduced later this year.

But the deadline passed without a further announcement, although the Department of Health (DH) has pledged that details would follow 'very shortly'.

A spokeswoman told Dentistry: 'People in different jobs will be told what will be expected of them, things they will be required to do in this financial year.'

Last year, a DH study put the combined annual treatment bill for migrants and foreign visitors – for 'dental, ophthalmic, and pharmaceutical' – at £116m.

Of this, £99m is spent on people from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and the remaining £17m on migrants and visitors from within it.

The study is hotly disputed and made no estimate of how much of that £116m could be recouped through an immigration crackdown to restrict access to the NHS.

Indeed, health secretary Jeremy Hunt acknowledged some money was reclaimed already and that it was 'impractical or inappropriate' to charge for all services.

Nevertheless, his deputy, Lord Howe, said in January: 'We must make sure the system is fair to the hard-working British taxpayers who fund it.

'We know we need to make changes across the NHS better to identify and charge visitors and migrants.

'Introducing charging at primary care is the first step to achieving this.'

The threatened crackdown has concerned the BDA (British Dental Association), which warned of 'unnecessary barriers between clinicians and patients that could impact negatively on health'.

And it was criticised by Parliament’s Human Rights Select Committee, because it will partly target foreigners who are in the UK lawfully, including those applying for immigration status.

A BDA spokeswoman said the organisation was waiting to receive further information, adding: 'The DH has a working party looking at this.'

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