Unveiling his party’s health policy on Monday, the Ukip leader confirmed that tourists, students and all those moving permanently except refugees would need medical cover before entering the country.
However, the party has not yet set out precise details about how this would work, including whether more visitors would need visas to enter, the method of policing it and how those who were already in the country without cover would be dealt with.
Asked what would happen to illegal immigrants in need or those whose insurance had expired and were unable to pay, Farage said Ukip was not talking about denying treatment to the needy.
“We are a civilised country and we are civilised people and there will be a category of people who may well come without medical insurance and that is genuine refugees fleeing in fear of their lives,” he said.
“What we are talking about is the vast bulk of people who come. If you or I were in America, it is an absolute prerequisite that we show the authorities that we have an address to live at and appropriate medical cover … But the last thing we want is for us to have a US-style health system. The idea that someone in trouble would be left outside hospital and not receive treatment is not what we are trying to say here today.”
He said Britain could negotiate “reciprocal” healthcare arrangements with other European countries rather than necessarily requiring a new visa regime for each one.
Pressed on the details of the policy, Louise Bours, Ukip’s health spokeswoman, said it was “not beyond the wit of man” to devise a workable scheme.
“What I’m saying is, if people are prepared to travel without insurance it should be a condition of entry in to our country, in my opinion. There’s no question of deportation because they have not been let into the country,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“The whole structure of the scheme is obviously something if we’re in government that we would then find how to structure adequately so it performs well. But the fundamental principle that we must have medical insurance as a condition of entry I think is a very sound one and is one that we must look at.”
Ukip’s other policy promises include increasing funding for dementia research to double that pledged by the Tories and putting an extra £3bn a year into the NHS, paid for by withdrawing from the EU.
The party would also abolish car parking charges at hospitals at a cost of about £200m a year.
During the launch event in Rochester, the seat of Ukip’s second MP Mark Reckless, Farage also moved to shut down speculation that he would back an insurance-style health system instead of the NHS.
He made this suggestion two years ago and more recently indicated there would have to be a debate about it in the future. However, on Monday he said: “Can I please make it clear Ukip is committed to an NHS that is free at the point of access and paid for out of taxation, full stop.”
Labour said Ukip’s claims to believe in a free NHS should not be trusted. Jon Trickett, a Labour shadow minister, said Ukip had a “longstanding record of support for increased NHS privatisation and NHS charging”.
“Nigel Farage has made clear that he personally believes in increased NHS privatisation so a single speech cannot hide their real agenda,” he said. “Last month Ukip’s party secretary said the NHS was the ‘biggest waste of money in the UK’, comparing it to Hitler’s Nazi bunker, only to be defended by Nigel Farage.”
This article was written by Rowena Mason, political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Monday 23rd February 2015 15.03 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010