MIGRANTS have been charged millions of pounds by a hospital in Reading for NHS care under new controversial rules. 

Since 2017 undocumented migrants — those without leave to remain in the UK — must pay upfront for non-urgent NHS care and treatment. If they can’t pay, treatment will be withheld. 

In Reading, the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust has charged ‘overseas visitors’ £3,691,000 since 2016, according to a freedom of information (FoI) request. 

Several hospitals across the country have used debt collectors to recover unpaid bills from undocumented migrants, which can often be tens of thousands of pounds. 

But it is unclear how many times the Royal Berks trust referred debts to bailiffs, as the response to the FoI request said this data would take too long to find out. 

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The charges for migrants are part of the government’s hostile environment policy, which was introduced by Theresa May as home secretary in 2012. The policy aims to make staying in the UK as difficult as possible for those without leave to remain. 

The hospital has charged overseas visitors £512,000 so far this financial year, as of September 30. It charged £926,000 last year, £1,108,000 in 2017/18, and £1,145,000 in 2016/17. 

The British Medical Association, a trade union representing doctors, is calling for the charges to be completely abolished. It said the charges put off some patients from seeking care, including for cancer — causing some to die young.  

Liberty, the human rights group, said charging in hospitals ‘undermines the founding principle of the NHS: that its services should be free at the point of use for anyone who needs them’. 

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A spokesperson for the Royal Berks trust said its top priority is delivering high quality care to all patients, including overseas visitors. The NHS is free at the point of service delivery for people who are legally ‘ordinarily resident’. 

They said: “If a patient who is not ‘ordinarily resident’ were to need further treatment after receiving emergency care and, providing they advised the A&E staff on their arrival that they were visiting the UK, by completing a pre-attendance form, they would be made aware that charges may be made.”

Staff would contact the patient, advise on any costs and raise an invoice. Patients can pay in instalments over a period of time. 

If a patient can’t or won’t pay, ‘we will initially follow our internal debt collection process and then, if necessary, the trust’s solicitors will try to settle any outstanding payment in line with government guidance’, the spokesperson said. 

“The trust hasn’t found that the government’s policy on charging overseas visitors discourages them from accessing treatment when required.”