Non-European citizens coming to Britain for more than six months could be charged a one-off levy of £200 to access National Health Service (NHS) facilities under controversial plans to discourage “health tourism”.

Students will have the charge added to their visa fee if the plans -- part of a government consultation exercise -- go ahead.

The move, attacked by migrant groups and doctors, comes on the heels of a botched attempt to demand a £3000 cash bond for visa applicants from “high-risk” countries including India.

Declaring that NHS was “a national health service, not an international service”, the Tory Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was “determined to wipe out abuse’’ of Britain’s universally free health care system. The government needed to “ensure that those residing or visiting the UK are contributing to the system in the same way as British taxpayers and ensure we do as much as possible to target illegal migration”.

“We are not talking about turning away anybody. What we are talking about is being better at checking whether people are entitled to free treatment or not -- and then better at chasing the money if they should be paying. Most other countries have developed systems like that. I think that’s fair to British taxpayers. We have to make sure that the NHS is sustainable in the long-term,” Mr Hunt told the BBC.

He said there were also plans to change to the way EU citizens currently accessed NHS by making sure that they bore some cost of the treatment.

Many doctors opposed the move saying they did not want hospitals to be turned into “ a form of immigration controls”.

“My first duty is to my patient - I don't ask where they're from or whether they've got a credit card or whether they can pay,” said Clare Gerada, chairperson of the Royal College of General Practitioners.

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