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.