December 6, 2013 1:46 pm

For the life of me I cannot understand the irrational and emotive controversy surrounding the issue of immigration. It seems perfectly logical to me that a nation whose size and available resources deem it fit for an ideal population of 30 million, but instead has one of 67 million and rising, should take some measures to ensure a control of the influx. Even the village idiot, who today may himself be an immigrant, comes to that conclusion.

Nhs hospitalBut our government needs to score points, and so having meekly tucked away the vans and posters telling our overseas neighbours to get the hell out or else, they’re now targeting health tourists who apparently cost the NHS up to £2 billion a year. Of that sum, £1.4 billion is actually spent on irregular visitors or non-permanent residents, many of whom are entitled to NHS care anyway. The amount spent on abject health tourists, who come here for no other reason than to glean free healthcare from our benevolent welfare state, is closer to between £70 million and £300 million. Still princely sums, but far less than the cost of one weapon system.

Having made us aware of these fiendish alien visitors, the government now expects the healthcare services to police them too, presumably to turn in or away anyone found to be here illegally. Legal immigrants are, of course, a net contributor to our economy, a vital part of our workforce and arguably should be entitled to public healthcare services, despite the considerable strain it is placing on the system.

One of the magical joys of this great nation is that wherever you are from in the world, no one gives you an invoice after reassembling you should you suffer a tragic accident. I cannot imagine a hospital in the land turning someone away that was in dire need of help. Most healthcare professionals are capable of summoning the simple humanity alone to help their fellow human beings. But budgets and resources are finite, and if someone who shouldn’t be here is using up a protracted treatment service that was earmarked for a bona fide citizen, then that needs to be confronted. How exactly a hospital or surgery will make that determination is anyone’s guess. Even more perplexing is how government intends to recoup or save the expenditure on these health tourists. It will be receptionists that have to face these visitors. They will be the ones in line for the conflict

and the inevitable abuse, as well as the confusion from a raft of different languages. Doctors_by_poprageAre we to expect them to be the new border police as well? Will our new patients have to present their passport and visas? Do we need to check and scan their National Insurance cards? (Will the CQC get antsy if we don’t?)

There is an element of a pot and a kettle here. Plenty of our citizens travel overseas, in particular to Eastern Europe, to receive cheap dental or healthcare. Certainly, they may pay for it, but they know it will be far cheaper than the same treatment here. After all, our NHS employs more people than the population of Estonia, and has a budget greater than the gross national income of Slovakia. Are our travelling citizens not health tourists as well?

Hypocrisy aside, the wider point should be that the health services of this country have enough on their treatment trays to contend with without being a Band-Aid for ineffective immigration policy and a lack of border control. Immigration control is part of government’s primary raison d’etre, national security, and perhaps investing in a more robust border police force and having more rigorous immigration criteria may enable everyone to do the jobs they signed up for. If we travel far enough down this path, it won’t be long before surgeons are delivering milk after finishing open heart surgery.

Demonising people for political points is a futile play, as is expecting the health service to pick up the slack. People are people, and if they come here to suck at the teat of our services, then beyond a testament to how good our services are we should be asking why the health services aren’t better in their own countries. Goodness knows we pay enough of our taxes (around £12 million per day) into the European Union. OK, much of that money may line the pockets of corrupt government officials, but we’re still looking for someone to blame. Ultimately, unless the origins of the problems are solved behind foreign borders and our borders are made more secure, then we can do little to stop or chastise people from coming here to exercise their most fundamental human instinct of self-preservation.

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