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Health tourism is a deceit

Another day, another scapegoat

Another day, another scapegoat - that is the only explanation for Jeremy Hunt's attempt to blame health service shortcomings on the mythical phenomenon of "health tourism."

The figures quoted by the Department of Health and by various media supporters of the Tory witch-hunt against overseas non-payers for healthcare in Britain give every indication of calculations on the back of a fag packet.

Hunt's motivation, including the appointment of Health Education England non-executive board director Keith Pearson to advise on visitor and migrant cost recovery, is essentially electoral.

The Health Secretary believes that media headlines will convince voters that he is taking a tough line with legions of sponging foreigners who exist largely in his own fevered imagination.

Linked to this is his hope that NHS users will blame a tidal wave of health tourists for service inadequacies, especially at accident and emergency departments, rather than the spending cuts for which he is personally responsible.

Hunt had the chutzpah to gabble a wish list of numbers of medical professionals that could be taken on - 4,000 doctors and 8,500 nurses - if a "potential" £500 million were recovered every year from non-residents who access NHS care.

Even the report commissioned by the government seems unsure about the scale of the problem, suggesting that the cost of "health tourism" could be somewhere between £70m and £300m a year.

How can anyone draw conclusions from figures as vague as this in an NHS England annual budget of £109 billion?

Hunt dismisses criticism of inaccuracies in his case, asserting that 150 health professionals at 30 different NHS trusts "talk about waiting lists being longer, about pressure on A&E departments, and they also talk about £500m that we could potentially recover."

Waiting lists are certainly longer and there is definitely pressure on A&E departments, leading Labour shadow health secretary Andy Burnham to highlight Hunt's unsurpassed achievement of foreshadowing a winter A&E crisis with one in summer too.

What is the point of brandishing imaginary figures of 8,500 new vacancies for nurses when the government's austerity agenda has delivered 6,000 nursing redundancies during its period in office?

Shortcomings in the NHS, especially in England, since the Tories and Liberal Democrats conspired to form a parliamentary majority to drive through an unpopular and unmandated cuts agenda, are deliberate government policy.

Both parties are intent on NHS privatisation by handing over profitable services to the private sector and reducing funds available to trusts.

Hunt's ravings and the government's Immigration Bill being pushed through Parliament are a smokescreen to obfuscate the conservative parties' responsibility for squeezing our NHS.

Health professionals, including GPs, are hard pressed already without having to act as Border Agency officials.

The Health Secretary, like many other ministers, admires the US model of health care, which relies on an insurance system that excludes tens of millions of US citizens.

He should not expect doctors, nurses and other staff to check patients for documentation, as in the US, before administering care. That's not the ethos of our NHS.

The one requirement for access to NHS treatment is medical need.

Proposing victimisation of refused asylum-seekers by denying them health care is not only inhuman but self-defeating since untreated carriers of infectious diseases will infect other people.

The Health Secretary's despicable scapegoating campaign should be rejected along with the government's ongoing assaults against the NHS.


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