Dentists will be expected to check whether foreigners should be charged for treatment, under controversial government plans
A consultation document has confirmed that the department for health (DH) will seek a 'fair contribution' in dentistry – as well as in hospitals and GP surgeries.
But officials have acknowledged it will be a 'challenge' to find a mechanism through which high street dentists can judge who should be refused free treatment.
And the 60-page document admits to some concerns about the 'potential impact of any changes on local dental access'.
When the immigration crackdown was first floated, in May’s Queen’s Speech, it was not clear whether foreigners’ access to treatment would be restricted across the entire NHS.
The BDA immediately urged health secretary Jeremy Hunt to clear up the confusion, calling for guarantees that there would be no threat to urgent care.
It suggested dentists would be willing to implement any change – falling far short of fierce criticism from family doctors – but said 'clear guidance' was required.
Now the document has suggested a new ‘healthcare levy’ – of at least £200 – for anyone coming to the UK from outside the EU for more than six months.
An Immigration Bill is also likely to include a charge to use the NHS for anyone here for less than six months and a system to track migrants' treatment across the health service.
Ministers say non-UK residents are currently granted NHS numbers far too easily, providing 'health tourists' – or those who have fallen ill while in this country – with unlimited free care.
The consultation will also explore whether migrants should be allowed to show they have private health insurance, as an alternative to the levy.
A new 'registration and tracking system' would give only a temporary NHS number to anyone with a 'questionable' residency status – and charge them for non-emergency care.
Mr Hunt told MPs: 'We need to ensure that those residing or visiting the UK are contributing to the system and that we do as much as possible to target illegal migration.'
The consultation, which closes on August 28, states that dentistry 'should be chargeable for non-exempt individuals, irrespective of who provides the service or where the services are provided'.
And it says: 'The lack of residency rules means visitors or migrants, if taken on for NHS dental care, receive the same subsidised, if subject to NHS charges, or free, if in an exempt category, provision as UK residents.
'We need to look further at the different types and levels of charges that might be applied to visitors and migrants that would be consistent with ‘fair contribution’.
'A key challenge is a mechanism for determining those who are chargeable as migrants or visitors that would be accessible to and operable by all high street dentists.
'A further consideration for dentistry is the potential impact of any changes on local dental access.'
The consultation can be read here
By parliamentary correspondent Rob Merrick