Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The (Inter) National Health Service

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.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Falklands Veterans Parade yesterday was a moving tribute to those who fought, and died for British people living on British Territory which had been invaded by a fascist dictatorship. Not only did the war liberate the Falklands but an unexpected bonus was that it led to the fall of the Junta and heralded democracy in Argentina. Yet as the BBC reported this morning more veterans of the conflict have lost their lives through committing suicide since the end of the war than in the conflict itself.

It isn’t surprising given the disgraceful way we treat our soldiers. Those returning from Iraq with physical injuries have been put into civilian hospitals and subjected to verbal abuse from so called “British” citizens. Those bearing the mental scars of war are reliant on charities like Combat Stress. Led by former submarine commander Toby Elliot it does a superb job but a reliance on voluntary donations means that it can’t help as many as Cmdr Elliot would like. Those who return unharmed are often housed in substandard accommodation for a few months before being sent off on the next six month tour. Those on frontline duties do not even receive the equivalent of the minimum wage.

A former member of the SAS told me last week that an injured mate of his had been treated at Selly Oak hospital alongside a wounded member of the Taliban who was claiming asylum. The wounded British soldier was eventually discharged with permanent disabilities, left the army, and struggled to find the money to have his home adapted. Meanwhile the ex-Taliban member will have been fed housed and nursed back to health by the British taxpayers and if his claim Asylum claim is accepted he will be entitled to claim for full social security benefits backdated to the day he arrived in the UK.

The brave young men and women who put their lives on the line for their country deserve far better from their political leaders.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Pots and kettles

No doubt the Prime Minister enjoyed delivering homilies to African leaders on the importance of holding fair elections, rooting out corruption in high places, and not declaring war on your neighbours. I wonder how many despots hid a wry smile as they thought of the political rows Blair left behind him - such as anger at widespread postal vote fraud, honours being handed out for cash and the ongoing disaster in Iraq.