PLANS to crack down on health tourism and recoup as much as £500 million a year for the NHS have been backed in Worcestershire.
Under the government plans patients going to A&E would have to prove they are entitled to free NHS care.
GP consultations would remain free for foreigners to prevent risks to public health and nobody will be turned away in an emergency.
But ministers keen to clamp down on any abuse of the system say migrants and overseas visitors could face extended prescription fees, charges for some emergency care and higher rates for optical and dental services.
The Department of Health estimated in the autumn that overseas visitors and migrants cost the NHS as much as £2 billion a year and that almost £500 million a year of that could be recouped.
Worcestershire health watchdog Peter Pinfield said he was “shocked” by the figures and called for assurances the system will be tightened up.
Mr Pinfield, chairman of Healthwatch Worcestershire, said the NHS should not turn its back on anyone but added: “Letting visitors to our country off scot free is not an option.”
Announcing the “clampdown on abuse of the NHS”, health minister Lord Howe said: “Having a universal health service free at the point of use rightly makes us the envy of the world, but we must make sure the system is fair to the hardworking British taxpayers who fund it.
"We know that we need to make changes across the NHS to better identify and charge visitors and migrants to the UK.
“Introducing charging at primary care is the first step to achieving this.
“We are already looking at taking action and next year we will set out our detailed plans to clamp down on the abuse of our NHS.”
Specific details of how the plans will be implemented are due to be unveiled in March 2014.