Tim Ross and David Barrett, Telegraph (London), October 5, 2013
Foreigners will have to prove that they are entitled to be in the country before they are given access to GPs and hospitals, while foreign students will have to make a “contribution” to the health service.
The measure will form the centrepiece of tough new legislation designed to reduce numbers entering the country and put pressure on illegal immigrants to leave.
A senior government source said it was an attempt to target “people who have no right to be here”.
Restricting access to the NHS is highly contentious politically.
GPs will be told they have to check that people seeking to register with them are here legally and issue only time-limited “NHS numbers” — the proof of entitlement to free care — to those who do not have a permanent right to be in the country.
Separately, students from outside Europe will have to pay a £200 levy before they can access the NHS.
Hospitals will be told to step up attempts to pursue “health tourists” for the cost of treatments they receive.
The measures will be outlined in the Immigration Bill, which is due to be put before Parliament within days.
It represents one of the most wide-ranging and ambitious pieces of legislation since the Coalition took office, spanning six Whitehall departments: health, local government, business, and transport, as well as the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice.
However, it will not affect migrants from inside the European Union, which is now the biggest single source of new arrivals.
Other elements of the Bill include:
• A ban on councils giving social housing to individuals with no connection to an area, with “penalties” if the rules are not followed;
• Fines of up to £3,000 if landlords do not conduct thorough background checks on their tenants to ensure they have a legal right to live in Britain, and fines of up to £20,000 for every illegal worker employed by unscrupulous businesses;
• A victory for The Sunday Telegraph’s campaign to end the farce that sees foreign criminals dodging deportation by appealing using the Human Rights Act.
Instead the law will allow immediate deportation and appeals from outside the country unless criminals can show they face “serious and irreversible harm” in their home countries.
The plans are intended to address what ministers see as public concern over the impact of the migration policies of the last Labour government.
The Bill is the Coalition’s flagship legislation for the year and Conservatives hope that the package of measures will allow them to win back voters who have been tempted to support the UK Independence Party.
“If you are not entitled to our free National Health Service you’ll have to pay for it,” a source said.
“If you are an illegal immigrant you won’t be able to rent a council flat and you won’t be able to rent a private sector flat.”
Many of the restrictions on free health treatment are likely to be opposed by some doctors, who have previously resisted attempts to make them “gatekeepers” to the NHS.
At present anyone registering for the first time at a GP is given an NHS number, which allows them to receive free treatment.
Under the reforms, they will have to prove they are entitled to be here to gain the number. By having no NHS number, they will be unable to receive anything except emergency treatment.
Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, said: “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.
“We have a National Health Service not an international health service and I am determined to wipe out abuse in the system.”
The foreign students levy will end the current situation which allows free access to the NHS for all students here for more than six months.
Currently 300,000 students from outside Europe are studying at British universities.
Official projections have suggested that this number will rise to more than 480,000 by 2025.
Although charging these students would raise less than £100 million, ministers believe it would be a significant disincentive to those who would abuse the NHS.
Analysis of Home Office figures suggests that one in five foreign students will remain living in the UK five years after first arriving, and many will settle permanently.
Efforts to step up the pursuit of health tourists will also be included.
There is uncertainty over how much is spent by the NHS on foreigners who are not entitled to free treatment, with current estimates ranging from £3million to £300million, and fears the figure may be even higher.
Reforms to council and social housing provision will also be included.
Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary, blamed “Left-wing” councils for giving too many taxpayer-funded homes to immigrants after figures showed that 10 per cent of social housing was given to foreign families last year.
Among the most significant measures in the Bill is the drive to stop foreign criminals abusing Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights — the right to “private and family life”.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said in June 2012 that criminals should only be allowed to use “family life” arguments to avoid deportation at the end of their jail terms in “exceptional circumstances” — a proposal that won unanimous backing in the House of Commons.
Other measures expected to be in the Bill include halving the 68,000 immigration appeals heard each year by cutting the number of appeal routes from 17 to four.
A separate tightening of the rules on unemployment benefits is likely to follow, which will not require an Act of Parliament to introduce.
Certain unemployment benefits for European nationals will be stopped after six months, under the plan to amend the Immigration Regulations.