a physician in white coat checking up on his patient

The Scandal of Health Tourism

It is astonishing and almost unable to comprehend that there are now Six Million British people waiting for surgery or other hospital treatments. Six Million is around the population of Scotland, or two-thirds of the population of London.

The NHS has been the mainstay of British healthcare for years, and despite some reform and an overhaul, it works (or used to work) amazingly well. But now things are really quite serious. The Six Million on waiting lists only includes those in England; it is unlikely things are significantly better in the other three parts of the UK.

For routine surgeries such as hip replacements, many of these people have been waiting for more than a year. While it is easy to be blinded by statistics, try to imagine it is your relative who can’t walk anymore because of hip pain; or your child who is acutely deaf but cannot get cochlear implants. If we bring it down to a personal level, it is likely we all know someone who is suffering severe pain or life impairment but simply doesn’t make the grade to be seen by the NHS right now. Imagine being told you have prostate cancer, “but it doesn’t kill everyone, so we’ll see you again in a year”; or “yes, your kidneys are failing, but while you are able to get to an appointment, we simply don’t have space for you in the kidney unit”. Or being told all the places for premature babies in your local hospital are full, and there is nowhere within helicopter distance to take your child for help, so let’s wait and see (and prepare for the

Behind every statistic is a human being who is being discriminated against by being put at the back of the queue. And why? Because the National Health Service is not coping at the hospital level. It is ridiculous and frightening that while there is a crisis in hospitals, there is possibly a worse crisis in getting to hospital in the first place.

Patients are often unable to get ambulances, with besieged NHS phone operators telling them that they should get a friend to drive them to A&E, and even then, over a quarter of those arriving in A&E wait for more than four hours to be seen.

It is truly terrifying to realise you are having a heart attack and to call 999 to be told the wait is on average 53 minutes. That is a matter of life and death. Again, why is the NHS overwhelmed at both community and hospital levels?

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Something is terribly wrong with our NHS, which for the last 70 years has served us well. There are two obvious issues, and it is not a case of understaffing or underfunding. The issue is that the demand is far too high, which is solely the fault of the Government.

The reasons for such high demand are “health tourism” and “immigration”, which are undoubtedly the fault of the Government.

Official statics show that millions of pounds a year are spent on treating “tourists” who just happen to be in the UK when they need medical attention. The cost is a staggering £300million a year. Why are hospitals and community services treating people who have no intention of paying? Any non-national who flies to the UK expecting free treatment is a health tourist. It is perfectly easy to give false names or addresses. Who has ever been asked for proof of identity when turning up at an emergency GP or a hospital?

The recent drive to have a vaccine has made it very clear that the Government are well aware that there are people using the health service who have no right at all to use it for free. Health tourists are, by definition, non-UK nationals who target the NHS because they will often get better treatment than at home — and for free, by ‘flying in and flying out’.

The UK is among the worst western nations to pursue healthcare tourists to make sure that they are properly billed for their treatment and made to repay the cost. This is not an oversight; it is a deliberate policy, made by the Government. By comparison, you cannot get private treatment for as much as an ear infection or a stubbed toe without giving credit card details or paying upfront. If private companies have this sense, why is the Government lacking such sense? There are obviously millions of people in this country who have worked and paid into the system all their lives, yet when it comes to their old age or illness, they are treated no better than someone who flew in last week to have their gall bladder out.

The huge elephant in the room, though, is immigration. No one knows how many people are here illegally, though news reports suggest it is growing by the day as people enter in their thousands a month via dinghy to Dover. Many people are so scared of being called “racists” that very few people speak out about the fact that in London, interpreters in NHS hospitals are provided for free in over 20 languages. If they can’t speak English (or at least have a family member who does), why are they using the NHS? Chances are they didn’t pay a penny towards it. Interpreters are paid at least £20 an hour and a lot more depending on their specialist language.

Can you imagine turning up in a hospital in Japan, demanding an interpreter, not being asked for proof of your right to use medical services, and leaving, after treatment, without paying a penny and flying home happy?

A report by the London School of Economics suggests that illegal migrants oscillate between 417,000 and 863,000, including a population of UK-born children ranging between 44,000 and 144,000. Who let them in? The Government.

Our National Health Service is fast becoming an International Health Service, which is ultimately paid for by UK taxpayers. It leaves our older or more vulnerable citizens without the care that would meaningfully change their lives: or save them.

Boris Johnson is on record as saying – and it is utterly shocking, this man is meant to run the country, not run it into the ground,“[What we need to do ] is to look at the legal framework that we have that means that when people do get here, it is very, very difficult to then send them away again, even though blatantly they’ve come here illegally.”

Seriously, other countries manage it; it’s not impossible to deport economic migrants or health tourists, nor to stop huge numbers coming here, and it is definitely possible to prevent them from accessing services they have never paid for. As previously reported on this website, withdrawing from the 1951 UN Refugee Convention would solve much of this problem.

There is hope. The NHS was founded on the basis of fairness; free, at the point of use, for those who had already paid. We can get back to that principle. How? Through the ballot box. Every election, by-election, council election, every time someone knocks on your door asking for your vote. Tell them what matters because the National Health Service matters to all of us.

One comment

  1. Successive governments have encouraged unlimited immigration into these Islands and this has led to the disastrous state of finance in the National Health service ( NHS ) .
    Much of the ‘ attraction ‘ to settle in our Islands has been the health care ( and benefits) system which is basically free at source . This is a great encouragement to migrants with older parents / dependents , FREE to them is a blessing they never enjoyed in their own country and this was especially true of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and unfortunately war torn Syria .
    When the inception of the NHS was decided it was to be a NATIONAL health service ,the envy of the world BUT now its an International health service too the detriment of the indigenous people .The ‘ open ‘door policy of treatment for free is admirable if we can AFFORD it but the pandemic has uncovered the disastrous financial mess the NHS IS IN.
    It is not logical that governments continually raise tax to fund the NHS without any visible signs of value for money.
    There are too many employed in the NHS that have no medical training whatsoever this must be resolved by an independent stand alone company to manage I.T , paper work logistics etc this will also cut the scandalous waste of money and end the reliance on costly ‘ contract ‘ workers. all staff should be on open and transparent contracts ..
    The investment of NHS funds from land sales should be used to fund training for full time staff .
    Finally the problem of ” Health tourism ” must be addressed. Passports and bank details must be lodged upon arrival ( sorry if this upsets the ” human ” rights brigade ) and proof of address/ next of kin ,should you be entitled to treatment there will be no charge , if your not entitled to treatment you will be seen But before your release from hospital the necessary costs must be payed otherwise court proceedings must be pushed to recover the costs . Anyone using fake I.D will be automatically charged full cost
    The NHS and its staff do a great job but this system has suffered for too long.

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