The 2012 London Olympics are due to start on 27 July.  The UK and its economy are very different environments compared to 2005 when London won the bid to host the Games. There has been much press speculation about the burden that the Olympics will place upon an already heavily stretched NHS.  It is therefore of importance that there is an understanding of which overseas visitors during the Olympic period are entitled to “free” healthcare. In this article Georgia Ford focuses on the position of secondary care providers.

As part of the London 2012 bid, several health commitments were made, the most significant of those being the provision of free healthcare for accredited members of the Olympic and Paralympic “Games Family”.   The bid commitment for free healthcare in relation to the Games Family has three key parameters. 

Firstly, free healthcare is only available to the Olympic and Paralympic Games Family.  The Games Family comprises athletes, technical officials, press, official broadcasters and members of the Olympics and Paralympic officials e.g. from the Olympics Committee.  Marketing partners (apart from senior officials) and its workforce are not part of the Games Family.

Games Family individuals will be issued with an Accreditation Card to indicate their role within the Olympics.  NHS staff should request sight of this, as it will indicate what service level the individual is, and therefore help NHS staff to ascertain if the patient is part of the Games Family, and therefore entitled to free healthcare.  NHS staff should then contact the London Olympics Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) Medical HQ with the patient’s details and, subsequently, with daily updates on their medical status. 

The NHS is instructed to fast track athletes where appropriate without compromise to other patients’ care. If NHS staff are in any doubt regarding whether a patient is part of the Games Family, he/she should seek guidance from the Trust’s Olympics Liaison Officer (at Designated Hospitals only) or Overseas Visitors Manager.

Secondly, even those who are part of the Games Family are only entitled to free acute and emergency treatment for any condition which occurred after arrival in the UK (including pre-existing conditions which worsen) and not for pre-planned, elective or routine monitoring or chronic conditions. 

Thirdly, the Games Family is only entitled to healthcare in excess of that of any other overseas visitor from 9 July 2012 – 12 September 2012. 

Usual arrangements apply to all other visitors to the UK during the Olympic period i.e. those pursuant to the NHS (Charges to Overseas Visitors) Regulations 2011 (the Charging Regulations). 

As to whether it is likely to be ‘business as usual’ for the NHS during the London Olympics will no doubt be a moot point until long after the last race has been run.  However, with the estimation that 96% of visitors attending events are expected to be either UK nationals or from Northern Europe, along with the possibility that tourist numbers may even decrease overall during the summer of 2012 (as at the Athens and Barcelona Olympics); perhaps the impact on the NHS will be less than the press would have the public believe. 

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