FINANCE: The Home Office has sent immigration officers into a London trust to help administrative staff identify foreign patients who could be charged for treatment.

The three month pilot at St George’s University Hospitals Foundation Trust will run until 21 August. Plain clothed immigration officers are working with trust staff to “up skill” them in identifying “potentially chargeable patients”, a note in the trust’s June board papers states.

St George’s approached the Home Office to set up the initiative.

St George’s Hospital

St George’s approached the Home Office to set up the initiative

The trust is keen to make savings after forecasting a £30m deficit for 2015-16. It fell suddenly into the red at the end of the last financial year, shortly after being given foundation status.

Three immigration officers are at the hospital at any one time to help staff ask patients questions that will identify their nationality and get more information if required.

Patients who are not from the European Economic Area and who apply for a visa to live in the UK for more than six months are charged £200 a year for access to NHS services under the “health surcharge”, introduced in April by the Department of Health.

Trusts are not required to get a patient’s consent before sharing non-clinical data with the Home Office.

A spokesman for St George’s said: “[The trust] approached the Home Office after attending an overseas visitors action group meeting earlier this year where a presentation on a London based hospital initiative was given.

“The presentation highlighted some positive outcomes, which led us to investigate a partnership to run a similar initiative at St George’s.

“There is a potential for the trust to make savings by better identifying overseas, chargeable patients. We have been involved in the initiative for a month, we await the outcomes.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “Our NHS is a national, not an international, health service. We work closely with a wide range of partners across government and the private sector to enforce our immigration laws.

“This includes working with hospitals by providing onsite support to frontline NHS staff to help identify people who should be charged for NHS services.”