A few years ago my Hungarian girlfriend, (now wife) woke up needing a doctor. “How much will it cost?” she asked. I laughed at the preposterousness of the question. “This is Britain I said it doesn’t cost anything” But she persisted in asking for cash “Of course they don’t charge you
.” She said but “I’m not British” “I don’t pay any taxes here” “I haven’t got any health insurance” and so on. In vain I patiently explained that regardless of all this, there was not the slightest chance that she would be billed for using our NHS, indeed I doubt whether our GP surgery even has a till or a means of collecting money. So certain was she that no country would be so stupid as to allow anyone to walk in and use its health service, that I had to give her twenty pounds before she walked down for her appointment.
Herein lies a major problem afflicting the NHS, or rather the Inter- National Health Service. We will treat literally anyone in the world who happens to be passing, with not a thought for their right to receive very costly treatment, which has been paid for by British taxpayers.
The government funded “Visit Britain” website which is supposed to generate money for our nation, actually advertises to the world that “you are eligible for free emergency treatment in the Accident and Emergency departments of National Health Service hospitals.” ! It goes on to state that foreign visitors (with many exceptions) will be charged for after-care. But of course nobody ever pays. An official might make a half hearted attempt to chase up a large debt from someone living in the third world who has given a false name and address. He or she will fail.
Other countries do it differently. We Brits are expected to have our own health insurance when travelling outside of the EU. The travel section of the Foreign Office website makes it quite clear that even if not compulsory, for a number of countries it is “absolutely essential” as their own healthcare systems are so poor. Bizarrely we have reciprocal arrangements with some of those very countries!
We cannot expect doctors and nurses to refuse treatment to those in need just because they have no right to it. Nobody would want to see people dying in the streets though lack of medical treatment, not even when they have flagrantly abused the system - for example by arriving here 34 weeks pregnant from the other side of the world in order to have their baby in an NHS hospital, as many do.
A simple measure would put a halt to much of this abuse. We should insist that absolutely everyone arriving here from outside of the EU, should be in receipt of a verifiable health insurance document which could be checked by immigration officials.
At a stroke we would put an end to a great deal of freeloading on our public services.
The idea is so simple it needs to more than a sentence to sum it up. It would be fair and would do no more than to bring Britain into line with the rest of the world. It would save the NHS tens of millions of pounds each year which could instead be spent treating British patients.
The phrase “free at the point of use” is usually associated with the Beveridge report which led to the establishment of the NHS. Had they foreseen the era of cheap international travel those writing it would surely have wanted to add the words – “to all who are entitled.”
I never did find out what happened to the £20 I gave the future Mrs Davies. It certainly didn’t go to the GP.