Comment and Opinion



Keep out health tourists
(Filed: 16/06/2003)

Slowly but surely, NHS professionals are starting to speak out about the effects of health tourism. In yesterday's Sunday Telegraph, two prominent consultants, Dr Anne Edwards of the Oxford Radcliffe and Dr Tim Moss of the Doncaster Royal Infirmary, went public with the news that about two thirds of new HIV patients in their areas are from abroad. Many of them are from sub-Saharan Africa and cannot be turned away because of human rights legislation. The cost of treating each of these incomers is said to be in the region of £15,000 per annum, resulting in major financial holes, in consequence of which routine operations for other patients are either halted or at best delayed.

It was courageous of Dr Edwards and Dr Moss to do so. When extracts from Harriet Sergeant's pathbreaking study on health tourism was published in this newspaper last month, her sources only spoke on condition of anonymity. Everyone is terrified that they will be accused of being "racist" for pointing out the obvious. Indeed, when Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, was asked about this issue, he told our sister newspaper that "every patient should be treated equally. I can't imagine any British doctor would suggest that patients should be treated differently based on their origin. If there are budget constraints, then a case needs to be made for more resources."

This is the sort of foolishness that has inhibited serious discussion of the issue. Does Mr Phillips seriously think that we should foot the bill for every foreigner who poles up on these shores, with no regard to the rising tax bill? Where would he draw the line? And does he have no feeling for the pensioner who has paid high taxes all his life but who has to go to the back of the queue for his or her hip replacement?

The American writer Emma Lazarus only asked the Old World to "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…". If she were able to take Mr Phillips' advice, she would no doubt add "…and your sick as well". The nation of shopkeepers is now well on the way to becoming the nation of hospices. The "come as you please" ethos of the NHS is one of the most powerful motors behind the tidal wave of "reverse colonialism" that is engulfing our public services.