Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, is considering whether to charge foreigners for using ambulances and visiting A&E in a move that could further escalate tensions with the medical profession.
In a bid to raise money, Hunt is expected to announce a consultation within the next month on whether the NHS should charge patients from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) for emergency treatment.
While no one would be denied urgent care, hospitals would be allowed to withhold treatment for non-urgent medical problems until a payment was made.
Patients from inside the EEA would have to present their European Health Insurance card to receive treatment, and their government would be sent a bill.
Under the proposals, there would be certain exemptions on charging up front, such as for women in labour, while asylum seekers would be excluded from the system altogether.
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