Jeremy Hunt has announced NHS trusts will have a legal duty to check whether overseas patients are eligible for care and to charge them upfront.

Anyone flying to the UK for non-urgent treatment could now be turned away unless they agree to pay the NHS bill upfront.

The NHS will still treat people needing urgent care, who can be invoiced if it is found they are not eligible for free care. They will be told before the treatment begins if their care is chargeable.

The announcement is aimed at tackling the problem of ‘health tourists’, overseas patients who get treatment in the UK but unable to pay for their medical bills. The move could save million of pounds for the NHS.

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In the operating theatre: non-UK nationals may have to pay for their treatment / GETTY

The British Medical Association has warned of possible “chaos and confusion” as a result of the move.

Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chairman, said: “It is right that we ensure all patients are eligible for NHS care and that we have in place a working system to recoup the cost of treatment from patients not ordinarily resident in the UK.”

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said the plans should not compromise patient care.

She said: “We now have NHS Trusts, struggling with funding and capacity issues, seeking to legitimately recoup funds, while at the same time not restrict access to vital emergency treatment.”