Overseas visitors taken ill while in England will soon be charged differently for using the National Health Service, as part of a drive to stamp out health tourism and prevent loss of income.

From April this year, visitors and former UK residents will be subjected to different NHS charges depending on where they live, in a bid to recoup £500 million a year by 2017 to 2018 and create a fairer system.

Treatment in A&E departments and at GP surgeries will remain free for all, and most people who live or work in another European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland will continue to get free NHS care via the European Health Insurance Card, which allows the NHS to reclaim healthcare costs from the original country of residence.

UK state pensioners who live elsewhere in the EEA will now have the same rights to NHS care as people who live in England. But people who are not working and are under the UK retirement age should either use their EHIC or ensure they have health insurance if they need NHS care when visiting England, otherwise they will have to pay for it. 

Also, unless they qualify for an exemption, people who live outside the EEA - including former UK residents - should take out personal health insurance when visiting the country, or now face being charged 150% of the NHS national tariff if services are used, the government said.