"While dictators rage and statesmen talk, all Europe dances — to The Lambeth Walk."

Monday, 20 July 2009

Failed Asylum Seekers Eligible for Free NHS Treatment

Yet another costly government u-turn which defies common sense:

Tens of thousands of failed asylum seekers will get free care on the cash-strapped NHS following a Government U-turn, it was announced today.

At present, people are denied free treatment on the Health Service if their asylum bid has been turned down and they still have not left the country.

But now the Department of Health has decided that if they are destitute or cannot return home 'through no fault of their own', they will be entitled to free care at GP surgeries and hospitals.

It potentially increases the numbers able to legally use the NHS by tens of thousands - although Migration Watch said the relaxed rules would open the floodgates to 'up to a million' illegal immigrants.

Asylum seekers walking down a railway line in Calais

'Open door': Tens of thousands of failed asylum seekers will get free care on the cash-strapped NHS following a Government U-turn (file picture)

Doctors today undermined the Government's strategy by saying it was not their job to act as immigration officers - raising the possibility that GPs would refuse to ask failed asylum seekers any tough questions.

There are understood to be around 450,000 failed asylum seekers who have not left the country - although only 10 or 20,000 are directly affected by the new rules.

Health Minister Ann Keen today said the rules were designed to end the scandal of health tourism, where people from poorer countries enter the country to be treated in a British hospital.

The UK is a mecca for such people because most countries have social insurance systems, under which people are expected to prove they can pay before being treated. But our NHS is free at the point of need - making it an easy hit.

Health tourism is understood to cost the NHS more than £200 million a year.

Mrs Keen said ministers wanted to see new rules which would mean foreigners with significant debts to the NHS banned from entering Britain. And she was 'investigating the longer-term feasibility' of introducing a requirement that everyone entering the country would have to have health insurance in place.

But in her written statement to the Commons yesterday, Mrs Keen unveiled the changes on asylum seekers.

'Persons seeking refuge or asylum are already exempted from charges for the duration of their application, including the full appeal process,' she said. 'The Government has not been persuaded that this full exemption should be extended to all of those whose application has failed but have not yet left the country.

'It has however recognised the case for those whose claim has been refused but who are being supported by the UK Border Agency because they would otherwise be destitute, have children and/or because it is impossible to return home through no fault of their own.

'It is therefore proposed that an exemption from charges is extended to this group.'

The statement added: 'The Government also proposes to exempt from charges all unaccompanied minors, including those in local authority care, whilst clarifying the principle that the accompanying parent or guardian of a non-resident minor is responsible for the cost of their NHS treatment.'

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migration Watch, said the new rules may only officially affect a few thousand asylum seekers, but would give the green light for up to one million other illegal immigrants to get free NHS care.

This was possible because GPs had discretion over putting people on their books without checking they were entitled to free care.

Sir Andrew said: 'This is yet another capitulation to the immigration lobby.

'These proposals amount to an open door for up to one million illegal immigrants to access the NHS. No wonder they are queueing up in Calais.'

The Health Service is already struggling to cope with expected funding cuts in the coming years following the recession, which could lead to job losses and closed wards.

And if the swine flu outbreak gets any worse, there will be increasing demands on the NHS.

But last night the British Medical Association said all failed asylum seekers should be treated free on the NHS - and said it was not their job to decide who was eligible for free care and who was not.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA's head of ethics, said: 'There are many people who have had an asylum claim refused, cannot return home, and need urgent treatment. This announcement, while positive, applies to only one group of people in this situation, and does not go far enough.

'We believe no one whose asylum claim has been refused should be turned down for care which cannot be delayed, and which clinicians determine they need. Doing so affects our ability to control communicable disease, and ultimately puts additional pressure on the NHS - particularly on emergency services.

'The role of clinical staff is to determine what care a patient needs, and how urgently they need it - not to assess their immigration status. More must be done to ensure that those who need urgent care can assess it.'

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As we have signed up to the EU Human Rights act, there is no way the government can withhold health treatment.