The government’s latest health proposals would see patients denied access to the NHS unless they can provide two forms of ID.
A senior civil servant at the Department of Health (DoH) has laid out the controversial new plan. Speaking to a Commons committee on 21 November, Chris Wormald, permanent secretary at the DoH, spoke of the introduction of an ID-based system. It was claimed this would combat so-called ‘health tourism’.
A real or imaginary problem?
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has often blamed migrants for shortfalls in NHS funding. In 2013, he claimed that temporary migrants were costing the health service as much as £2bn a year. Hunt’s proposal was that health care providers, such as GPs and hospitals, should levy an extra surcharge against foreign nationals seeking treatment.
This was opposed by Labour and healthcare professionals, who felt it was not the role of doctors to act as border guards. Speaking at the time, Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said:
You are more likely to be cared for by an immigrant than encounter a health tourist in the queue.
In the same year, other research indicated that Hunt’s claims were false. Conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine with the University of York, it found that 18 NHS trusts made an income of £42m from foreign patients. The number of non-British patients paying for treatment was twice as high as those not.
The new proposals
Outlined by Wormald to the Public Accounts Committee, the new proposals represent a revival of Hunt’s original idea. Wormald explained that patients would have to show photo ID and proof of address to be eligible:
We have some trusts that are looking at asking for two forms of ID before treatment. Now that is obviously quite a controversial thing to do, to say to the entire population, ‘you now have to prove your identity’ but…those are the kinds of the things we want to look at.
Because they have never travelled they have no passport, they have no driver’s licence because they’ve never driven, they still live at home because they’ve never moved out, so they’ve never had a utility bill in their name. Perfectly entitled to health care…how are you going to make sure that people have access…without having to go through a very humiliating and impossible set of demands?
A British Medical Association spokesman said:
Ensuring eligibility for NHS services is always important, but these proposals go much too far…
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth responded by saying:
…the principle of the NHS free at the point of use must never be compromised…this suggestion is heavy handed and bureaucratic…
Already “underfunded, under-doctored and overstretched” following years of Tory attacks, the NHS is ill-equipped to deal with further bureaucracy. It will simply be yet another drain on resources, for negligible benefit. If these Conservative proposals are pushed through, in the face of widespread opposition, chaos is likely to ensue.
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Featured image via Ted Eytan/Flickr