Published: 06/05/2004, Volume II4, No. 5904 Page 3

The government is to announce a consultation later this month on charging overseas patients for primary care services.

Health minister John Hutton is expected to announce the threemonth consultation 'in the next couple of weeks' around proposals that could see newly registered patients being asked to sign a declaration that they are entitled to receive free care.

At the same time, the Department of Health is to study 12 primary care trusts to test the impact of 'health tourism' on primary care in different parts of the country.

HSJ revealed exclusively (news, page 3, 8 January) that a recommendation had been made to ministers that any charges for overseas patients using primary care services should not be introduced until 2007.Hospital charges were implemented last month.

A Department of Health spokesman said the consultation and the review of the 12 PCTs were designed to run in parallel, following an acceptance that there was little information available on the use of primary care services by foreign nationals.

He said the study of the PCTs would be a monitoring exercise to see whether the new systems were working or not, and whether rules and loopholes 'needed tightening'. The document, seen by ministers last year, estimated that around£15m could be recoverable in primary care through charges, although that would not include bad debts or recovery costs.

The identities of the PCTs being reviewed will not be revealed to ensure that an accurate picture of the use of primary care services by foreign nationals is received.