It’s scapegoating pure and simple. By Yannis Gourtsoyannis

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Relevant to recent news on charging for NHS access; remember Aneurin Bevan and his number-crunchers….

Watching the Public Accounts Committee a few months ago ago (on the Parliament online live-stream) I was struck by an extraordinary fact raised by a member of the committee. It's a fact which was stated almost in passing, but it's so important that I think it must be reiterated:

Back in 1948, at the inception of the NHS, Aneurin Bevan and his team of number-crunchers had estimated the cost of overseas visitors to the NHS to be 0.5% of the total NHS budget.

Is that significant?

Yes.

Why?

Because this is exactly the same figure as current estimates! Estimate which are being used to foster a sense of crisis.

And yet what these numbers ACTUALLY show is that, over the last 70 years, there has been no meaningful increase in the proportion of NHS expenditure attributed to migrant use of the service. The perception peddled by May, Hunt and this Government that there is a new or growing problem called "health tourism" is a perception which has been manufactured for the most cynical of reasons.

It's scapegoating pure and simple.

The truth is that only the tiniest percentage of migrants migrate for health reasons. The vast majority of migrants actually lack knowledge of the existence of an NHS. They also lack knowledge of their existing legal entitlements to free primary care (including a range of secondary services).

Most hypocritically, whilst this Government decries the "abuse" of the NHS by migrants, cash-strapped Foundation Trusts are encouraged to attract privately treated rich patients from abroad. This expansion of private provision (along with the twin phenomena of the destruction of the right to health care and wilful central defunding) is a toxic brew which ultimately impacts on the poorest in society; both here and abroad, documented or undocumented. Indeed the Government gleefully describes the international trade in private health services as a "growing market".

The cost to the NHS of migrants seeking medical care is negligible in both absolute and relative terms. Migrants are not, and have never been, a cause of fiscal crisis within the NHS. The blame for the fiscal crisis currently facing the NHS must be placed firmly at the door of this coldly calculating and murderously cynical government

Yannis Gourtsoyannis

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