CHARGING people from overseas for NHS care must be made more transparent, according to Reading’s health watchdog. 

Healthwatch Reading said: “More needs to be done to make complex rules transparent.” 

At least 30 people have been supported by the group since 2016 with cases involving NHS charges, through its advocacy service Reading Voice. 

The Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust has charged ‘overseas visitors’ £3,691,000 since 2016, under new regulations as part of the government’s hostile environment policy. 

Across the country these charges affect thousands of undocumented migrants, and according to the British Medical Association, put patients off from seeking necessary care. 

Rebecca Curtayne, Healthwatch Reading team manager, said: “The rules on charging are complex and not understood very well.

“Many people will be surprised, for example, to discover that some British citizens who have been living abroad for many years will not automatically qualify for free hospital treatment during visits or on return to the UK.

“There are also different rules for getting GP or hospital care: anyone can register with a GP, regardless of their immigration status, and anyone can get free treatment in A&E. 

“But if you’re from overseas and admitted to hospital, you could be charged, but you should be told this before your treatment starts.”

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Refugees, asylum seekers and children under local authority care are exempt from charges. Pregnant women, liable for charges, should not have maternity care withheld or delayed because of payment. 

Also complex is the immigration health surcharge: an up to £400 fee for international students and people on work or spouse visas, exempting them from charges.

But this fee doesn’t apply to fertility treatment, and Healthwatch Reading has helped many people unaware of this rule change.

Ms Curtayne said: “In another case, Healthwatch Reading supported the family of a man who died, after being admitted to Royal Berkshire Hospital on the advice of a local GP, during a visit to the UK. 

“The man had been admitted at the weekend, when the hospital’s overseas visitor team wasn’t working. 

“The hospital reduced the bill from around £6,000 to £1,500 to his family for his care, after we raised issues around whether information on charges and treatment had been communicated to the man and his family on admission.”