Chris Wormald of the Department of Health addressed parliament’s public accounts committee, revealed government proposals to clamp down on “health tourism” by requiring all NHS patients to prove their identity with two forms of identification, including a passport, before being allowed to receive hospital treatment.
Passports for patients is an idea that revives the old lie that migrants are ruining the NHS, not £22bn of government cuts. What better way of diverting attention from the government’s failure to address NHS underfunding ahead of the autumn statement than to turn up the heat on immigrants?
The cost of so-called health tourism is a drop in the ocean of NHS spending. An estimated £200m a year is spent treating people who have travelled to the UK with the deliberate intent of obtaining free healthcare to which they are not entitled. That’s a mere 0.3% of the overall NHS budget. The NHS spends £200m a year more on stationery than it does on health tourism.
Dr Mark Porter, the chair of the British Medical Association, said the idea was a politically motivated response that would not solve the funding crisis in the NHS.
The hostility towards migrants is piling up. It used to be the job of the Home Office alone to police immigration, but now schools, health professionals, landlords and others have been co-opted, whether they like it or not. Passport checking may save the NHS a few pence as long as the cost of administering such a system does not outweigh these slender savings.
There are also fears that marginalised groups – such as people who are homeless and the 13% of the population who do not have a passport – will find it harder to access care if the policy becomes commonplace.