Expatriate Britons have been caught up in a major crackdown on health tourists announced by the Government.
Under new restrictions, people who fly to Britain to exploit the NHS will be denied free care. The ban preventing visitors and failed asylum seekers from milking the system is likely to come into force by this April.
The new rules may lead to all patients being asked for proof of residence, such as a passport or electricity bill. However, pensioners from the UK who live abroad for more than half the year will be denied free treatment. No matter how much they have paid
in tax and National Insurance over the years, such expatriates will now have to pay for NHS care back in Britain.
Only treatment for emergencies - such as heart attacks, accidents or sudden illness - will still be free.
The move will hit thousands who have retired to the Spanish costas, France or other countries. Under existing rules, pensioners are only supposed to spend up to three months abroad to qualify for free NHS care. But officials did not vigorously apply this
Under the health tourism clampdown, thousands of expat pensioners will find themselves being quizzed on their eligibility. The Department of Health said it had made one concession - that pensioners who return to the UK to spend their final
years will still be eligible for free care. But pensioners who spend more than three months outside the EU - in countries such as Canada, America or Australia - will find they become ineligible.
Overall, the proposed law changes will mean that, unless people from overseas meet strict eligibility criteria, they will be able to receive only emergency care