Will the government’s plans to tackle abuse of the NHS by foreigners make any difference? The surgeon who first blew the whistle on health tourism,
Professor J. Meirion Thomas, believes they aren’t going far enough and may even have a negative impact. He first spoke out in the pages of The Spectator and gives his verdict on this week’s View from 22 podcast.
The independent report and proposals, particularly the levy on students and temporary foreign visitors, won’t make much difference says Thomas:
‘It’s [the levy] worst thing they could do. The biggest disaster that can happen to the solution of health tourism would be to accept this £200 levy for migrants wanting to come to this country and for students.
‘If you sell to the visitor what is essentially a travel insurance of £200 then the health tourists will go “wow, that’s even easier than it was before with all the loopholes; we had to jump a few fences before.” All they are going to do is pay £200, which is the best travel insurance on the planet and it gives them entitlement to NHS care.
‘Of all the things that the government are proposing, that is the one thing they should really not do — allow visitors and students to pay £200 at the border for access to the health service. That would be an absolute disaster.’
Professor Thomas also believes the figures quoted in the report regarding the cost of health tourism are wildly inaccurate:
Tags: health tourism, NHS, The Spectator
‘I don’t accept those figures; they grossly underplay the total cost. For example, I know of examples where the bill for individual health tourists has been between £500,000 and £1million. I know of one district general hospital where they get about 15 health tourists a month.
‘What we are talking about, don’t forget, is the health tourists are identified. Remember the vast majority of health tourists aren’t identified and that’s my main concern about the figures that have been published. There is no way that the audit can be anything like complete.
‘Let me give you one example, which they didn’t even touch on — British citizens who have lived abroad for decades. The longest example I have is 48 years, but I have other examples of 20, 30 and 48 years, who then suddenly they just walk back into the country with a serious illness. They are impossible to identify. They have an NHS number from birth, they may well have an address or the address of a friend but there is no other way they can be detected. These people have not been accounted for at all in the figures that have been published by the department of health this week. This is an example of how data has been missed.’