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13-08-2012 | Article

Treating patients from abroad

Occasionally we as GPs may be faced with treating patients who arrive in the UK from abroad. Some of us, depending on where we practice, may experience this scenario more commonly than others and one question that stands out is: "Can you treat these foreign patients free on the NHS?" The NHS website offers some guidance on this (click here), stating that "regardless of how long you're staying or your nationality, you're entitled to free emergency NHS treatment from a primary care practice, such as a GP surgery."

One vulnerable and tricky group of people to treat are migrants and asylum seekers, and this topic was explored in a recent publication in BMJ Open and covered in a recent univadis GP News article (click here).

The article reports: "Migrants newly arriving in the UK need better access to GPs and primary care services, say experts from the Health Protection Agency." It adds that "students and asylum seekers in particular should be encouraged to register".

As GPs, we should make a point of welcoming this group of patients who may have complex medical needs. As strangers in a new country, it can be overwhelming trying to adapt to a new system and culture. Finding and registering with a GP could be a potentially difficult process, particularly if that patient is not conversant with spoken English.

In terms of rules and regulations, it can be a little confusing for us GPs, but a document on the Department of Health website is fairly clear (click here). It states: "Like other UK residents, people with an outstanding application for refuge in the UK are entitled to use NHS services without charge." The Citizens Advice Bureau has also issued some useful guidance (click here).

I think that most GPs are more than happy to treat foreign nationals who are visitors to our country, but we need to have clear and easily accessible information to cover all eventualities. There are also political overtones in this situation and so we need crystal clear and comprehensive guidance from the political centre that can be easily found online.

Best wishes,


Dr Harry Brown, editor-in-chief univadis

By Dr Harry Brown