The NHS (Charges to Overseas Visitors) Regulations 2015 came into force on 6 April 2015 and have implications for future access to free secondary NHS healthcare for mission partners (UK nationals) visiting England.
- The new Regulations are available online and can be found at The NHS (Charges to Overseas Visitors) Regulations 2015.
- The Guidance that goes with the Regulations can be found at Guidance on implementing the overseas visitor hospital charging regulations 2015. Missionaries and volunteers overseas are specifically mentioned in this Guidance on page 29.
1. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
Healthcare is devolved in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and different rules apply. At the moment there are no changes in the other three nations approach to overseas visitors’ access to the NHS and as far as we know none are planned in the near future. Currently missionaries still have an exemption from charges in Wales and Northern Ireland, and although missionaries have never had an exemption in Scotland, in practice they have not been charged as far as we are aware (in addition, exemption 4 (k) might well apply to some mission partners visiting Scotland).
2. England – the implications
- Access to primary care services (e.g. GP services, dental practices, community pharmacists, walk-in centres, NHS 111, and high street optometrists) is unchanged and remains free - apart from the usual charges that apply to NHS patients, such as prescription charges and eye tests. (If you have difficulty registering with a GP surgery, please download Registering with a GP for further advice.)
- Access to the Emergency Department (A&E) is free to all and will include tests and treatment while someone is still under the overall care of A&E.
- However, once care is handed over to another team such as transfer to inpatient (admission to hospital) or follow-up outpatient care, it becomes chargeable.
- Do note that there are certain diseases for which no charge is made for diagnosis or treatment.
What is absolutely clear is that the decision has now been made to continue the basis of the NHS as a residence based healthcare service. So, the key (and only) criteria as to whether or not mission partners working overseas will be entitled to access to secondary NHS care (when visiting England) without charge, is whether they can be deemed ‘ordinarily resident’ (OR) during their times in the UK (for further information about OR see Understanding 'Ordinary Residence'). If they are considered OR they will be eligible for free secondary NHS healthcare from day one of their arrival. And please note, this is not linked in any way to your status as understood by other government departments (e.g. for tax or education purposes).
However, whilst we have genuine reasons to believe that some of our mission partners will meet the criteria for OR, it is clearly evident that others will not. And even for those who we think have a good case, there can be no absolute guarantee. If they are deemed OR, then they will have access to free NHS care, if not, they will need to pay 150% of the normal cost of any secondary health treatment, or pay through a private health insurance.
The Ordinary Residence tool: A ‘tool’ has been created which will be used by Overseas Visitor Managers in hospitals to help determine ordinary residence, and will be part of an online ‘toolbox’. It can be found here. The Guidance on meeting the Ordinary Residence Test which is available to download (top right) is based on the questions that are included in this tool.
FAQs: The downloadable document of FAQs should be of help in understanding the issues and practicalities in more detail – please do read this.
Private Medical Insurance: If in any doubt about your mission partners’ entitlement, you should seriously consider having insurance to cover healthcare while in the UK. As mentioned above, people who are not deemed ‘ordinarily resident’ will be charged 150% of the NHS tariff. With the help of a representative group of agencies Global Connections has been investigating the possibility of setting up a group Private Medical Insurance scheme for our members and we are pleased to announce that we have managed to find one that we think will really suit. The Global Connections Group Scheme offers annual worldwide (excluding USA) medical cover with Talent Trust Consultants. If you have any further questions about this please get in touch with Evan Winter.
Possible exemptions: A few mission partners or volunteers overseas who are in employment funded by the UK Government (and are not ordinarily resident in the UK) may be covered by the following exemption 6.3 Regulation 20 – armed forces, Crown servants and UK Government funded employment: Former residents may be working abroad as part of an armed service or as a Crown servant. They may also be in UK Government funded employment abroad or be employed by the British Council or Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Such individuals may be exempt from charges. See Regulation 20 2c, and also read the Guidance (pages 51-52) for further details concerning this exemption and examples of evidence needed.
Make sure your mission partners and your organisation are ready for the change:
- Read Understanding ‘Ordinary Residence’
- See the FAQs to answer any other queries you may have
- Download the Guidance on meeting the Ordinary Residence Test
Monitoring the situation
It is really important that we begin to build up a picture of how the new Regulations work out in practice with relation to missionary access to NHS secondary healthcare – both those who are deemed Ordinarily Resident as well as those who are not.
Please let us know your experiences by completing our simple survey which should take just a few minutes to complete (please note that we will not be requesting any names or medical information in this survey).
3. Recent news
“Proof of ID may be needed for NHS care, says health chief” (22.11.16). Some of you will have seen this headline, and might be wondering how this will affect mission partners visiting the UK trying to access NHS healthcare. It is important to say at the outset that in essence, nothing changes for our mission partners.
Following the Public Accounts Committee hearing on 22.11.2016 into the Visitor and Migrant NHS Cost-Recovery Programme, Mr Wormald (permanent secretary at the Department of Health) said that some trusts are already asking for two forms of ID before giving treatment, in order to prove British residence. And we have had it confirmed that this is something the NHS Cost-Recovery Programme is considering implementing more widely once the learning from trusts already doing so has been evaluated. For our mission partners (who are very unlikely to have evidence of UK residence and therefore asking for two forms of ID is irrelevant) we should expect trusts to just continue to use the Ordinary Residence tool - which has been set up to help determine whether or not mission partners will have access to free healthcare.
However, what this does highlight is the increased likelihood of questioning over residence when accessing healthcare. It becomes even more important that our mission partners are prepared and ready with the evidence they need for determining Ordinary Residence (or have private medical insurance if they are unlikely to meet the criteria). Please encourage your mission partners to insist that the OR tool is used.
4. Hospital pre-attendance forms - residency status questions
The Department of Health advises hospitals to ask patients to complete 'pre-attendance forms', particularly those who are seeking pre-planned elective treatment. Some of these forms may well ask questions about residency or 'the purpose of your stay in the UK'. The advice we have been given is that patients should provide the information asked for, and in ‘other’ explain that they are between missionary/charity work assignments and that is why they have been absent from the UK etc. That should prompt a discussion with the Overseas Visitor Manager to establish if the mission partner is in fact OR here, despite their absence from the UK. As already mentioned, please encourage your mission partners to then insist that the OR tool is used to determine this.
Sandy Morgan, Global Connections
Martin Lee, Executive Director, Global Connections