The government will take action to further restrict access to free NHS care for foreign patients, Jeremy Hunt has indicated.

The health secretary said the NHS was not an “international health service” and said the government would take “profound steps” to tackle the issue.

His comments came after prime minister David Cameron signalled further action to prevent the UK being seen as a “soft touch” for migrants.

In the Commons, Conservative right-winger Christopher Chope said Mr Cameron had “promised to prevent immigrants freeloading on our NHS” and asked what action Mr Hunt was going to take.

The health secretary said: “I am happy to confirm … that this is an area where we intend to take some very profound steps, because it is a National Health Service, not an international health service.

“We have to ask whether it is appropriate for us to be giving free health care to short-term visitors, to students, to people on temporary visas.

“That is an issue which we will be saying more about very shortly.”

Mr Cameron used a Daily Express interview to reveal that he had asked justice secretary Chris Grayling to develop a “residency test” to ensure migrants did not get automatic access to legal aid for cases in the civil courts.

“That is just one element of a huge range of measures to make sure that people who do come here are coming here because there is a particular job of work they want to do - rather than coming here because they want to use the health service or get a council house,” the prime minister said.

Earlier this month, Mr Cameron told the Commons that ministers were looking a wide range measures to ensure Britain was not seen as a “soft touch” by foreigners seeking to take advantage of its health or benefits systems.