Short-term migrants will be forced to pay for NHS care under a new bill being proposed by the UK Government.

The announcement came in Queen’s Speech this week, which is written by government ministers, that said the proposed new immigration bill aims to “ensure that this country attracts people who will contribute, and deter those who will not”.

Under the government’s plans, migrants’ access to the NHS would be restricted and temporary visitors would have to “make a contribution” to the cost of their care, either with their own money or through their government.

But it is still unclear as to just exactly how long ‘short-term’ will be in this context, and whether longer-term immigrants will continue to receive NHS care free of charge. 

The plans for Ofsted-style ratings for hospitals and care homes will be also be introduced over the next 12 months and a new chief inspector of hospitals given more powers, in response to the Mid-Staffordshire health scandal.

But in a surprising U-Turn on two major public health issues, there was no mention in the Queen’s Speech on proposals to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes (as have been undertaken in Australia) or legislation on minimum alcohol pricing, although the health secretary Jeremy Hunt has insisted both plans are “still under consideration”.

The Prime Minister David Cameron said the immigration measures were the “centre piece” of his government’s plans for the year ahead, as they “go right across government”.

He told MPs this week: “Put simply, our immigration bill will back aspiration and end the legacy of the last government, where people could come here and expect something for nothing.”

Politically the coalition government, led by the Conservative party, is trying to stem the flow of raising UKIP support, who want tougher rules on immigration into the UK and on their use of NHS care. But the party has always been tough on immigration rules, and insists the immigration bill was written before UKIP’s electoral success in UK local councillor elections last week.

GPs to become a ‘border agency’?

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World at One’ whether this would mean GPs having to check patients’ passports before agreeing to treat them, business secretary Vince Cable told the programme that “checks of various kinds” were one option being considered - but the details had yet to be finalised.

But this has provoked reaction from the RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada, who says: “GPs must not be a new ‘border agency’ in policing access to the NHS. Whilst the health system must not be abused and we must bring an end to health tourism, it is important that we do not overestimate the problem and that GPs are not placed in the invidious position of being the new border agency.”

She went on: “General practice must remain the main access to health care within the NHS. GPs have a duty of care to all people seeking healthcare, and should not be expected to police access to healthcare and turn people away when they are at their most vulnerable. It is important to protect individuals and public health.”