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How the Spectator blew the whistle on the International Health Service

3 July 2013

4:31 PM

3 July 2013

4:31 PM

At Prime Minister’s Questions today, backbencher Philip Lee ambushed David Cameron on the subject of health tourism. He asked:

‘As a doctor who once had to listen incredulously to a patient explain, via a translator, that she only discovered she was nine months’ pregnant on arrival at terminal 3 at Heathrow, I was pleased to hear the statement from the Secretary of State for Health today on health tourism. Does the Prime Minister agree that although the savings are modest, the principle matters? The health service should be national, not international.’

The Prime Minister replied:

‘My hon. Friend makes a very important point. This is a national health service, not an international health service. British families pay about £5,000 a year in taxes for our NHS. It is right to ensure that those people who do not have a right to use our NHS are properly charged for it. We have made this announcement, and I hoped that there would be all-party support for it, but Labour’s public health Minister has condemned it as “xenophobic”, so I assume that Labour will oppose this sensible change that working people in this country will roundly support.’

In describing an ‘international health service’, both speakers were echoing J. Meirion Thomas’ Spectator piece in February in which the consultant surgeon spoke of his frustration with the number of patients who, in spite of being ineligible for free care, fell through the net anyhow. Shortly afterwards, the government started making noises about cracking down on health tourism, and this week ministers launched a public consultation on charging migrants £200 a year for using the NHS. In February, the Spectator called health tourism the ‘next NHS scandal’. As ever, this magazine was ahead of Number 10.

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