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“Health tourism: the TRUE cost”: “Foreigners using NHS cost Britain up to £2 BILLION a year, government reveals – 100 times more than previously claimed” declares a Daily Mail headline. Yet the reality is very different, and there is little evidence that many people visit the UK for the purpose of getting free medical treatment.
“Foreign visitors and short-term migrants cost the NHS £2 billion a year, an official report warns today,” according to the article by political editor James Chapman. “The first comprehensive assessment of ‘health tourism’ says the true cost to taxpayers is up to 100 times bigger than some estimates.” But the report is largely based on guesswork. In any case it is ridiculous to describe people staying in, and contributing to the economy of, the UK who are unlucky enough to get sick or injured as ‘health tourists’. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/19239)
Suppose a plumber repairing a British tenant’s boiler falls off a stepladder and smashes his arm, or a grandmother looking after her sick British grandchild so that her British daughter can go to work catches the bug and becomes horribly ill? Their first thoughts are probably not “Hurray, my aim in coming here to get medical treatment unfairly at the expense of the British taxpayer has been met.”
Of course, many of those being targeted do pay National Insurance and tax regularly while taking less out of the system than average (since it is the young and healthy who are more likely to migrate). Their employers pay NI too, and may be less than happy if they and their staff are, in effect, ripped off. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18710)
“Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt hopes to recover up to £500 million a year,” the Daily Mail claims, and “if only 75 per cent of the £500 million target is recovered, it would pay the salaries of almost 4,000 doctors.” But the odds are that any savings would be swallowed up by tax loopholes kept open by the government to allow huge corporations to pay little or no tax, or cuts in tax rates for the super-rich and highly profitable companies.
It is questionable however whether there would be any savings. “The NHS could end up having to foot the bill for an immigration surcharge imposed on foreign visitors to limit their impact on the NHS when it recruits staff from overseas,” according to Shaun Lintern in HSJ, reporting on a letter from Dean Royles, chief executive of NHS Employers.
In addition many social care and other public service personnel could be affected, and their employers might have to pay for additional insurance, a cost which might end up being passed back to the public. And mechanisms would have to be in place to check that everyone using the NHS was entitled to do so, another expensive measure (and one that might annoy some Daily Mail readers when applied to them). The undermining of the NHS ethos might be even more costly in the long term.
With regard to “the health tourists who are taking advantage of the NHS”, the report on which the article is based admits that “There is limited medical literature around this topic although there is anecdotal evidence”, and “there are no statistically valid samples to generate estimates.”
In reality, it can be hard enough for those of us who are British and know the system well to get timely medical treatment from the NHS, other than getting patched up or given a few pills in an emergency.
The erosion of truth and justice in public policy-making has far-reaching consequences. Still, alarmist headlines about foreigners can be useful for stirring up indignation among newspaper readers and furthering politicians’ careers.
(c) Savitri Hensman is a regular Christian commentator on politics, economics, society, welfare and religion. She is an Ekklesia associate and works in the equality and care sector.Tweet