Clampdown on health tourism places public at risk

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A think-tank has issued a warning that the British public is being placed at increased risk from infectious diseases, including Ebola, due to the NHS anti-immigration and charges address which discourages migrants from using healthcare.

There are thousands who do not look for the care they require in fear of it affecting their immigration status or exposing them to NHS fees, according to the Demos group.

The group has warned that one in six of the estimated 580000 undocumented migrants in the UK avoids visiting a GP. This results in infectious diseases, such as HIV, tuberculosis, and possibly Ebola, going undiagnosed, which increases the risk of it spreading.

A special clinic in London which was set up by the charity, Doctors of the World, said that mothers were not seeking health support during pregnancy and cancer patients are dying without suitable treatment access.

In the UK, everyone is entitled to see a doctor, irrespective of their immigration status. However, the government has proposed plans for migrants to be charged should they make use of A&E services, and people from outside the EU to be charged 150% of the NHS cost of treatments.

This measure comes in response to the £80m that ‘health tourism’ costs the NHS annually. The Government intends recouping £500m annually from migrants and foreign visitors.

Demos mentioned in their report that this method would be short-sighted as it would protect the NHS from fraud, but expose the British public to higher risk of communicable diseases.

The author of the report, Max Wind-Cowie, said the current Ebola outbreak has brought this proposal into sharp focus.

According to the Department of Health, the NHS exists to offer support and care to those who are unwell, but it should be funded in a fair manner. They stated that they are working very closely with representatives from vulnerable groups to ensure that migrants are aware that they will always receive urgent treatment, irrespective of whether they are able to pay or not.

Image Credit: William Brawley

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