NHS Tourism

Early in the New Year I met with consultants and leading administrators at one of the major hospitals in my constituency, St Mary’s in Paddington.

The level of non-UK nationals who are turning up unannounced at St Mary’s to claim what they regard as free healthcare continues to grow and seemingly little is being done to stop this abuse. It is a complicated issue and one that is an additional strain on the local NHS services from GP’s surgeries to hospital wards.

Perhaps understandably many doctors are reluctant to draw attention to the fact that some of their patients are not entitled to treatment, part of which may be urgent. They rely upon the Hippocratic Oath but leave the much-maligned hospital administrators to do the dirty work of trying to recoup the costs from foreign patients. No one that I have met argues that the situation is untenable in the medium, let alone long, term.

The demands on the NHS continue to grow and it is unable to deliver as much care as this nation would like it to do. A question that is largely being ignored is whether our cities (foreign visitors rarely find their way to cottage or county hospitals) should have their NHS resources abused freely by foreign visitors. When we here in Parliament are constantly receiving letters about delays to operations for constituents it is difficult not to feel that matters are getting out of hand with the increasing number of visitors who seek to "play the system". Inevitably here in the Capital with international airports nearby the situation is at its most acute.

As my conversation with NHS professionals at St Mary’s highlighted, no one foresaw a time when people would get off a plane at Heathrow or Gatwick, catch the train to Paddington or Victoria and walk into the local A& E dept with a small suitcase of clothes as if they had caught a taxi from Bayswater.

When our NHS was created in 1948 the prospect of a free national health service was exactly that – free and national. Now I am concerned that it is becoming a service that is free and global and that is palpably unsustainable. The absurdity of the situation is exemplified by the use of our taxes to pay the French medical services to carry out operations on our own residents at the same time as our hospitals are giving care to people who have made no contribution to our National Health Service.

Unfortunately the situation is now being exploited by the asylum and immigration industry that has developed in Britain as well as the NHS tourists as they have become known. From the failure of non-democratic governments to look after their own, through the criminals who transport secret immigrants, to the legal aid lawyers who fill their pockets at the taxpayer’s expense, the nightmare of economic immigrants unwilling to make a fair contribution to this country continues to grow.

In the end I am deeply concerned that this country’s historic recognition of being a haven for freedom and liberty will evaporate. It seems that every day the Home Secretary is launching further controls against possible terrorists and foreign nationals from specific countries and it does not bode well for our nation maintaining its profile as a place of safety.

Whilst I do not agree with much of the recent Home Secretary’s legal limitations on foreign visitors much of the fault lies with those who espouse the word freedom with great gusto but forget that with liberty must come self-responsibility ? a core component of true democracy. Visitors who come with the intention of taking advantage of free healthcare here in the UK may not see themselves as the equivalent of terrorists in any way, but they are helping to make this nation less and less welcoming. That is a development that I for one wish to see reversed as soon as possible.