Select Committee on Health Written Evidence


Letter from the Parliamentary Clerk, Department of Health, to the Clerk of the Committee (HAIC)


  Thank you for your letter of 14 January 2005, seeking further information for the Health Committee's inquiry.

  In respect of the information from the review of GUM services, this is still very much a work in progress. The Department has not yet had the opportunity to consider the data which has been provided so far which is only part of an in-depth two year review of services across the country. Ministers will receive reports in due course. Under the circumstances, therefore, you will understand that it is not appropriate to make information available at this time.

  The Committee also asked about analyses of costs or potential savings arising from the changes to the charging regimes for overseas visitors, particularly in relation to HIV/AIDS services. As regards the hospital charging regime, NHS trusts have never been required to submit statistics on the costs of treating overseas visitors (a proportion of whom will, at any rate, be entitled to receive hospital treatment at no charge), so there is no baseline from which an estimate of savings could start. Moreover, it is worth making the point that the underlying rationale behind the changes introduced last year to the hospital charging regime was not only to save the NHS money by charging overseas visitors who are not eligible for free treatment, but also to protect free access to the NHS for all those who are entitled to it. This has positive benefits in much more than just monetary terms.

  For primary medical services, on 14 May John Hutton launched a public consultation on proposals to exclude overseas visitors from eligibility to free NHS primary medical services. The consultation ended on 13 August.

  We are currently working through some of the complex issues that the proposals have raised. Equally, Ministers are considering the responses to the consultation with a view to deciding the best way forward.

  Costs and savings related to the treatment of overseas visitors will vary depending on which of the options Ministers decide to adopt but these are not the main drivers for the proposed changes.

  The main thrust of the proposals is to strengthen the current system so that general practice staff and overseas visitors are in no doubt about who is eligible to receive free NHS primary medical services. The intention is for any new rules to be fair, transparent and less bureaucratic to operate and which can be enforced sensibly.

  In the interests of public health, the consultation proposed to adopt the same list of exempt diseases that apply in secondary care for which no charges can be made. In addition, the consultation also sought views on any primary medical services that consultees considered should continue to be freely available on public health grounds. Ministers are considering these as part of the overall response to the consultation. The proposals also made clear that anyone who required treatment as a result of an emergency or that in the clinical opinion of the health care professional was immediately necessary that this would continue to be provided free of charge.

  As you will appreciate, we are not yet in a position to share any further details with the Committee at this stage.

January 2005

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