How can we believe the government’s ‘health tourism’ statistics?

"It's my policy and I'll cry if I want to" - or is Jeremy *unt simply responding to criticism of his bid to climb on the anti-immigration bandwagon?

“It’s my policy and I’ll cry if I want to” – or is Jeremy *unt simply responding to criticism of his bid to climb on the anti-immigration bandwagon?

A speech by Iain Duncan Smith is immediately reminiscent of a wasp negotiating its way through a bulldog’s digestive system; there’s a lot of droning and implied pain, but through it all you know exactly what the outcome will be.

From this starting point, one may liken a speech by Jeremy Hunt to a hippo having an unhappy bowel movement as a result of an unwise dietary choice; much clumsy blundering in the wilderness and a fair amount of distress – which may be transferred to any poor creature unlucky enough to get in the way.

It seems that migrants and visitors from abroad who use the NHS are now facing the full onslaught of the Health Secretary’s metaphorical indigestion, with nary a bucket of Rennie in sight – except in this case the cure would be a set of reliable statistics covering the use of NHS services by our foreign-born friends.

Armed with new reports by independent firms Prederi and Creative Research, the Health Secretary (and well-known misprint) believes ‘health tourism’ is costing the NHS £2 billion every year – and has announced that he plans to claw back around £500 million of that money.

A BBC report states that ministers believe some of the spending is unavoidable but “it would be realistic to save a quarter. Savings would come from deterring so-called health tourism, recovering money owed by other countries and a levy on non-European temporary residents”.

But the cost of health tourism, as set out in the report, is tiny – at a maximum of £80 million it would be four per cent of the estimated total loss – and this is based on evidence which even one of the reports’ authors, Prederi, have admitted is incomplete. On its own, it could not possibly generate the saving demanded by the new policy, nor could it justify the claim that £2 billion is currently being lost.

That is not the point, though. This is about getting the NHS on the anti-immigration bandwagon.

The study has been released to coincide with the Immigration Bill, which (surprise, surprise) includes plans for a £200-per-person-per-year charge for temporary migrants to use the NHS during any stay lasting between six months and five years.

The Conservative-led Coalition government says this could recoup around £200 million per year, but this is clearly nonsense.

Put yourself in the position of a person from abroad, considering an extended stay in the UK. If an extra cost of up to £1,000 for a five-year stay was added to the trip, out of the blue, would you go ahead with it? Or would you consider other destinations?

Alternatively, if the trip could not be avoided, would this not make you more likely to use the NHS, in order to simply get your money’s worth? The trouble with this is that such a person would not know the cost of a consultation. According to Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association’s GPs committee, the cost of a single hospital outpatient appointment would equal the £200-per-year levy.

And then there is the administration cost. New Statesman revealed that the chair of the Royal College of GPs, Claire Gerada, has warned that the cost of administrating the new system could outweigh the savings, while also increasing public health problems such as TB by deterring temporary migrants from seeking treatment when they first fall ill. This gives rise to the possibility that we are facing another Tory policy that could have deadly consequences for the population.

This is not a plan to deal with health tourism at all. This is an attempt by an increasingly-desperate Conservative Party to claw back some of the voters who have (themselves) migrated to UKIP because of fears that have been planted in their minds by political spin-doctors, rather than any real threat – the phantom problem of immigrants getting benefits they haven’t earned.

Health tourism is not costing the UK £2 billion a year, and the measures outlined by the government will not stop it, or save any lost money. If anything, it will cost the country millions of pounds.

But then, when has Jeremy Hunt bothered with the facts, when he can have his way simply by playing on people’s fears and manipulating their beliefs?

This is why reference was made, at the top of this article, to Iain Duncan Smith – another Tory minister who won’t let thousands of possible deaths interfere with his beliefs.

13 thoughts on “How can we believe the government’s ‘health tourism’ statistics?

  1. Editor

    Does Hunt include his own wife in these statistics? And has he paid back the Japanese government for any heath costs he ran up when he was working there?

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  3. Sam Spruce

    I know you try to be accurate but isn’t the reference to IDS not letting thousands of “possible” deaths giving a bit too much leeway. I think it is accurate to say thousands of deaths.

  4. Matt Emulsion (@mattemulsion1)

    The government is clearly styling itself as the party of hate-crime. It actively seeks out the most ill-informed & basest of public perceptions and panders to them. The readers of the Daily Malice may revel in this kind of politics but it’s pretty sordid & dangerous stuff.

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  6. Worried

    Sorry but if someone is considering a 5 year stay then they wouldn’t be considering anywhere else – you don’t go on holiday for 5 years. If we go abroad we pay health insurance because if you don’t then you don’t get treated – simple as that! I was in the doctors a couple of weeks ago and there were 7 immigrants in the queue who had just come into the UK (one was pregnant) and they were demanding all sorts of services and complaining because they were told that some of them didn’t live in the area for that doctor’s practice.

  7. Marie

    “A new report into so-called “health tourism” makes for a shocking read. What it does above all else is that it exposes serious concern about the government playing politics with both immigration and the NHS.
    Let’s consider the facts:
    — The government has yet to provide a reliable estimate of how many migrants have actually used the NHS
    — But Jeremy Hunt somehow came up with health tourism costing the UK about £12m
    — The report is a product of considerable guesswork where assumptions drive the data
    — The report admits its figures on illegal migrants is “very uncertain”
    — The report fails to note any benefits paid by migrants through National Insurance contributions that also financially support the NHS.”

  8. Big Bill

    It could be he’s trying to blame rising health costs, costs due to his business mates charging more for everything since they bought the NHS, on an innocent third party, immigrants.

  9. Florence

    I’m surprised that the medics are being squeamish now that they are being asked to act as border control money collection agencies, when demanding money from patients isn’t at all hard. e.g. Charging for medical reports from ill & disabled people for ESA claims and DWP tribunals, and consultants charging claimants up to £200, and not the DWP, for a DWP tribunal report.

    I expect it could be made palatable by a large dollop of cash, for the medics. I notice the College of GPs was quick as a flash to mention costs. So maybe not squeamish, but just money grubbing?

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