Free NHS treatment is to be given to thousands of failed asylum seekers in Britain, it has been revealed. Currently immigrants who fail to gain refugee status are not entitled to free care, but ministers are set to extend the benefits to those who cannot leave the country “through no fault of their own”.

Human rights laws prevent some asylum seekers being returned home if they could face persecution in their home country. These people will be entitled to free healthcare along with those who are being given government support and who have children.

The government is also looking at the possibility of implementing health insurance requirements for foreign visitors, according to health minister Ann Keen, who added that the changes would be published in a consultation document later this year.

She said the changes will help make the NHS fairer and maintain the confidence of the public.

“We remain firmly committed to the requirement that immediately necessary or other urgent treatment should never be denied or delayed from those that require it,” she added.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, British Medical Association head of science and ethics, said: “Refusing non-resident HIV patients treatment after diagnosis has public health implications. It carries the risk that their health will decline to the point at which costly emergency treatment is required.

“We believe that no one whose asylum claim has been refused should be turned down for care that cannot be delayed, and which clinicians determine they need.

“Doing so affects our ability to control communicable disease, and ultimately puts additional pressure on the NHS, particularly on emergency services.

“The role of clinical staff is to determine what care a patient needs, and how urgently they need it - not to assess their immigration status.”

Regarding foreign nationals, he said that residents who spend long periods outside the UK should not lose their eligibility for NHS care, adding that mandatory health insurance for certain non-residents “is worth considering”.