Our NHS is obviously envied the World over – as thousands of (Non-EU) Overseas Nationals are visiting the UK each year for the Sole purpose of using ( or abusing ) our excellent free at point of access health care, for non-emergency treatment. These so-called ‘health tourists’ are costing millions of pounds and putting the NHS, and potentially genuine UK patients, at risk through burden.
This shocking revelation is sadly not new, however the extent of this problem has now been recognised publically and urgent implementation must be put in place to stop what appears to be blatant exploitation of the NHS and UK tax payers.
These ’health tourists’ are usually some of the wealthier citizens of their own country and arrive in the UK for lengthy medical care. They are not part of the majority of the poorest people from their own countries, who may rely on charity and medical aid for even basic health care.
Now, Leading Professor Meirion Thomas, has highlighted the shocking outcomes of this situation. This shows just how vulnerable the UK’s NHS is to such abuse, compared to other EU countries, for example France. This is at least in part because the UK has a free at point of access service, whereas other countries do not and those patients have part insurance or employment funded health care and health ID numbers which help ensure legitimate entitlement to health care.
Jeremy Hunt has been reported as estimating the bill from such ‘health tourism’ as being over £200 Million 1.. But Prof Thomas feels a National audit is vital to assess the extent of this fully and feels it should be ‘Manager free’ . He has also been reported as commenting, from discussions with cost recovery professionals, that this figure could be billions of pounds.
David Cameron recently promised to help stop this shocking problem, by tightening eligibility for health treatment, and introducing plans to ensure non-EU migrants have health insurance – however this may not be enough, at least in the medium term.
MP’s Nicholas Soames and Frank Field highlighted that this situation has been ‘out to consultation’ for nearly 10 years. Yet still no adequate change to halt this has been made during that lengthy time under either a Labour or Coalition Government.
18 months ago, the Home office was reported as instigating new protocols to prevent further visas being issued to anyone who has an unpaid NHS bill. However, this plan seems to have been unsuccessful.
Prof Thomas’ revelations have been supported by other Doctors and also by Nicholas Soames and Frank Field, who praised Prof Thomas for his ‘courage’ – the use of this term would possibly imply that by coming forward to publically highlight this scandalous waste, he has done something brave and even possibly reckless. Indeed, other Doctors have been reported as wishing to remain anonymous, although they agree with Prof Thomas. This is a saddening and controversial situation.
In a time of ever expanding public awareness, limited finances and a passion to protect the NHS, significant changes are vital and public opinion may well help to drive this, even if it means altering parts of the original tenets set out by Aneurin Bevan, and for example making NHS care not free at point of access, at least in some circumstances.
The world and global travel has changed in the 60 years since the NHS was founded – perhaps the NHS needs to change and evolve too.
Dr. Iseult Roche