Are 'health tourists' really that big a deal?


Jeremy Hunt

For anyone who has struggled to get an appointment with the GP or had to wait hours to be seen in A&E the idea of cracking down on Britain's 'health tourists' seems like a way to unburden a seriously overburdened system.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has already proposed charging non-EU migrants £200 a year to access the NHS as a way to protect British taxpayers and the 'national treasure' which is our health service.

When the government doesn't have enough money to pay for something it's always a good strategy to blame the health tourists lurking in the shadows, waiting to bring their ill health to the UK and expect us to shell out for operations and medicine.

Except, that there aren't people lurking in the shadows and the fears over health tourism are seriously overblown.

Caring for foreign nationals cost the UK just £12 million in 2012/13, a tiny 0.01% of the £108.9 billion NHS budget. Conversely foreign visitors spend £18 billion a year in the UK and contribute £3 billion in tax, such as VAT.

On top of that migrants who are living here contribute £16.3 billion to the economy – just over 1% of GDP.

When you look at the figures it doesn't look so bad does it? Keep in mind that many of the costs of associated with treating overseas visitors can often be recouped through two-way agreements with other countries. I benefited from one of these agreements in Australia after an accident – although I had insurance it wasn't needed as Brits are treated for free, as Australians are here.

The fact that Hunt is once again raking up the health tourist schtick is bad enough but what he doesn't spell out is that his plan to add another layer of administration onto our health service will cost millions more than the visitors he is trying to prevent from receiving care.

Anyone working in the health service will already testify that the last thing they need is more paperwork or to become defacto border control. Would we all be forced to carry around out national insurance cards to prove we pay our taxes? How would the staff at the hospital be able to verify we are who we say we are - they can't even access your GP records at the hospital let alone carry out identity checks. It all seem wholly unlikely not to mention completely unnecessary.

Visitors aren't a burden, politicians who want to administrate the NHS into the ground are the real problem.