A recent government decision threatens to turn the NHS into the ‘World Health Service’ and should be rescinded as a matter of urgency, says a think tank in a report out today.
Its provisions allow illegal migrants and foreign visitors full and free access to primary care services, which can be the first step to costly and lengthy secondary treatment in hospital.
The report, from Migration Watch UK, said the decision, taken in July this year and quietly slipped out as Parliament rose for the long Summer recess, will result in primary medical care being provided to anyone in the UK, whether they are here legally or not, and regardless of whether they have made any contribution by way of tax or National Insurance.
‘At a time of intense pressure on the NHS this is an incredible decision. It is an open invitation to the whole world to come and take free advantage of a health service paid for by the taxes of the people of this country, ’ said Sir Andrew Green, Migration Watch UK chairman.’ ‘Tax payers will regard this as an insult and will want it reversed at once.’
The previous government had wanted to see a closer link between access to the NHS and UK citizenship or residency – but for six years took no action to achieve it.
‘The Coalition government eventually issued guidance in July 2012 which took the extraordinary decision to go in exactly the opposite direction by granting access to GP’s services for all foreign visitors and also to illegal immigrants,’ said Sir Andrew.
The guidance states that an overseas visitor can register with a GP provided that he or she is in the area for more than 24 hours. This applies whether or not the visitor is lawfully in the UK. A GP is paid £64 per head for each patient on his register; there is no means of knowing whether a visitor has subsequently left the UK.
The guidance further states that registration and a doctor’s appointment should not be withheld because the patient does not have proof of residence or personal identification and that past or present payment of taxes or National Insurance is not to be taken into account.
A GP practice is required to offer free treatment to anyone who requests it (if they have not been accepted on the list) if, in the opinion of a health care professional, it is immediately necessary.
All this applies to illegal immigrants but not to refugees and asylum seekers whose cases are undecided as they are not illegal immigrants and already have the right to free NHS care both by GPs and hospitals.
In respect of hospital treatment it is the duty of the hospital, not the GPs, to establish entitlement to free hospital treatment.
‘In theory, admission to hospital is a different matter,’ said Sir Andrew. ‘The new regulations make it clear that the responsibility is one for the hospitals themselves. However, a Freedom of Information Act request submitted on behalf of Henry Smith MP found that most NHS Trusts only cursorily audit the treatment of foreign nationals who are not entitled to automatic free healthcare.
‘Many hospitals do not even ask whether patients are foreign nationals. In addition, a Panorama programme broadcast in October found extensive evidence that no proper checks were made,’ he said.
‘In practice therefore there is a very good chance that someone who is not entitled to hospital care could receive extremely expensive treatment without having to pay for it.
‘The implications of these changes are wide ranging. They are an open invitation to “health tourism” at a time when the NHS is obliged to make substantial savings. Nearly eight million non EEA visitors arrive in Britain every year not to mention up to perhaps one million illegal immigrants already here,’ said Sir Andrew. ‘It cannot be right that we encourage illegal immigration in this way.
‘It will not be long before substantial numbers of visitors seek free treatment while they are here, especially if they come from countries such as the United States where most medical treatment is both private and very expensive.
‘There could also be an inflow of visitors from EU countries where health standards are not as high as in the UK. The recent rapid rise in births to mothers born in Poland could be a pointer to the future’, he said. (EU nationals who come to the UK to settle are entitled to NHS care in any case but they could now come as visitors)
‘The Government claim to be reviewing the matter but the fact is that they have already caved in to the BMA. They should now perform a very rapid ‘U’ turn on this issue and ensure that the NHS is available only to those entitled to it. It is extremely unfair that tax payers should wait in a queue behind those who have never contributed and never will.”