HEALTH professionals yesterday condemned coalition government moves to bar immigrants from access to healthcare, and charge overseas visitors a £200 fee to qualify for NHS treatment.
Health Secretary Hunt was claiming yesterday that an ‘independent’ report commissioned by his department has estimated that these groups cost the NHS £2 billion a year.
Hunt said he wants to save £500 million from the NHS budget by deterring ‘health tourism’, by recovering money owed by other countries and by imposing a £200 levy on non-EU temporary residents.
The British Medical Association (BMA), the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGPs) condemned the move.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Chair of the BMA’s GP committee, said: ‘Anyone seeking to access NHS services should be eligible to do so and . . . there is limited evidence to suggest that migrants or short term visitors are consuming large parts of the NHS budget.
‘The government’s estimates are based on a number of assumptions that result in a figure significantly higher than previous estimates.
‘GPs and other healthcare professionals do not have the capacity or the resources to administer an extended charging system that could require GPs to extensively vet every single patient when they register with a new practice.
‘This would cause inconvenience to all patients and put additional strain on already overstretched GP services that are currently under pressure from rising patient demand and falling resources.
‘It is doubtful that the expensive bureaucracy required to support an extended charging system would recoup enough money to cover the costs of setting it up in the first place.
‘We must also be careful about creating a climate where some people are deterred from seeking treatment when they need it.
‘Not only would this present a risk to the health of that individual, it could also prevent the NHS from identifying individuals with contagious diseases and result in further costs to the NHS should a patient’s condition deteriorate to the extent they require more expensive emergency treatment later on.’
Dr Peter Carter, General Secretary of the RCN, said: ‘Any charges should not override the principle of access for all in need.
‘We should not place further barriers on those with physical and mental health needs which may escalate to emergencies, which would also place further pressure on the NHS.
‘We would also be concerned about the impact on vulnerable groups in this category particularly children, whether accompanied or unaccompanied, and their access to services.’
Dr Clare Gerada, chairwoman of the RCGPs, said GPs refuse to become a ‘new border agency’ in policing the NHS.
‘The risks to public health that will arise from these proposals are also very real’ she added.
‘They will deter people from seeking medical help in the early stages of illness when they can be dealt with cost-effectively and efficiently in primary care, rather than requiring expensive specialist care and increasing admissions to emergency departments.’
• Home Secretary May has scrapped the ‘Go home, or Face Arrest’, van billboard campaign after widespread outrage and condemnation, including from shadow home secretary Cooper who denounced the Tories for using ‘the language of the National Front’.
The vans, widely dubbed ‘vans of hate’, patrolled six London boroughs, with the scheme also featuring leaflets and posters with the message: ‘In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest’.
May claimed she was scrapping the scheme because it had been ineffective, with just one person ‘handing himself in’.