Access to healthcare for overseas visitors

Overseas visitors and access to referrals

Location: England
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Monday 6 February 2023
Topics: Ethics

Anyone, regardless of nationality, residency or immigration status, may register and consult with a GP without charge. Practices can only refuse to register a patient if they have "reasonable grounds" to do so and any decision must not be discriminatory.

NHS England and BMA guidance specifies that lack of proof of identification or address are not considered "reasonable grounds", as many individuals, particularly vulnerable migrants, may not have access to these documents. Practices are also obliged to provide immediately necessary treatment to any patient in their area for up to 14 days.

It is not the role of GPs to determine whether a patient is eligible for non-primary care without charge. GPs should treat the patient in the same way as they would any other when making a referral to secondary care or elsewhere and refer whenever clinically appropriate - irrespective of the patient’s potential chargeable status.

Practices may be informed by trusts that a patient they have referred for treatment is not eligible for free NHS care. This should not prevent future referrals as patients’ eligibility status can change with their circumstances. A patient’s condition may also progress such that they will need to be reassessed to see if they need urgent or immediately necessary treatment.