Health chiefs have sent out new guidelines warning NHS trusts to prepare to charge EU citizens who had previously been eligible for free treatment “immediately after exit day”. The move has sparked claims of new “hostile environment” for immigrants with only a million of the three million EU citizens living in Britain registered under the “settled status” programme.
Citizens’ rights groups warned the “poorly planned” measure would place new burdens on hospitals to carry out immigration checks on thousands of patients.
Maike Bohn, of the3million campaign group, said: “Such a move is discriminatory and outrageous.
“The new guidance is creating a hostile environment for millions of EU nationals who have the right to free healthcare in the UK but won’t be able to prove it.
“This outrageous decision spells chaos as the two groups of EU citizens will be indistinguishable to the NHS and we are running the risk of people being denied vital treatment they are fully entitled to.”
British Medical Association deputy chairman Dr David Wrigley branded the proposal “another example of a chaotic, poorly planned result of a no-deal Brexit”.
He said: “This system would present hospitals with the mammoth task of determining where a patient was born, and, if they are from one of the 27 EU nations, whether they are eligible for free care.
“With most people not carrying documentation to prove this — and the deadline to apply for settled status not until the end of December 2020 — it is a nigh-on impossible ask for any workforce, let alone overstretched NHS staff.”
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Tory MP Alberto Costa, who has campaigned for the rights of British citizens in the EU and EU citizens in Britain, said: “In the referendum the Vote Leave campaign that is now running Downing Street pledged to protect the rights of EU citizens living in Britain.
“Making them have to prove their rights to use the NHS is injurious and a breach of that commitment.”
And he warned the the crackdown would have a knock-on effect on the more than one million Brits living in the EU.
He said: “Such a move will make it harder to agree reciprocal healthcare arrangement to protect all citizens.”
“You should make sure that any changes to your operational practices are implemented from that point forward.
“You should work closely with your organisation’s senior responsible officer for Brexit preparation and their teams, to make sure that you are operationally ready to implement the new charging regulations after exit day.”