GPs should not police immigration, says RCGP

GPs should not be used as a new “border agency” to police access to the NHS, the RCGP has said.

The College’s chair Dr Clare Gerada made the call in response to the Queen’s speech which stated that short-term migrants will be asked to pay for NHS care.

It is not yet known exactly how such a system would be enforced. When asked on BBC Radio 4’s World at One if GPs would have to check patients’ passports before treating them, Business Secretary Vince Cable said that “checks of various kinds” were one option being considered but the details had yet to be finalised.

Dr Gerada said: "GPs must not be a new 'border agency' in policing access to the NHS. Whilst the health system must not be abused and we must bring an end to health tourism, it is important that we do not overestimate the problem and that GPs are not placed in the invidious position of being the new border agency.

"General practice must remain the main access to healthcare within the NHS. GPs have a duty of care to all people seeking healthcare, and should not be expected to police access to healthcare and turn people away when they are at their most vulnerable. It is important to protect individuals and public health."

General Medical Council guidance says doctors must “make the care of your patient your first concern” and “never discriminate unfairly against patients or colleagues”.

Guidance from the British Medical Association also states that: “Practices are not required to check the identity or immigration status of people registering to join their lists and there is no obligation on prospective patients to provide evidence in this regard.

“There may be practical reasons why GP practices might want to confirm the identity of patients registering at a practice but practices must ensure that any requests for identification are asked of all patients who register to avoid discrimination."

The government says it will launch a consultation on the issue with the emphasis on systems to ensure people “pay what they should”.