Updated: Jun 14, 2020
Now is the time
As we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis our country will find itself jumping out of the pan and into the fire. The economic consequences of the global slump through months of economic inactivity are already proving dire. The fallout will only get worse. As we return to normality, the nation will need every resource it can muster, which is why now is the time to end ‘health tourism’.
How much does it cost us?
The fact checker FullFact describes two types of health tourism:
1. Deliberate; wherein migrants travel to the UK in order to use the NHS
2. Normal use; where migrants use the NHS on the basis of need while visiting the UK
FullFact estimates that deliberate use costs the taxpayer £300 Million a year, while ‘normal’ use costs almost £2 Billion per year, as of 2017. Some of this cost is recoverable through the payment of the Immigration Health Surcharge. However, this only recovers £500 Million per year, or about 13% of the total cost, leaving a tab of around £1.8 Billion to be picked up by the taxpayer every year.
To give context, this is the equivalent cost of employing over 78,000 nurses for an entire year.
Inevitably savings will have to be made over the next 5, if not the next 10 years. George Osborne’s austerity programme levelled its axe against our police force and NHS workers, this government must learn from those mistakes. Boris must step up and brave the flak to protect our front-line services while bringing in vital cash to the government coffers.
This isn’t a silver bullet
Ending health tourism is not a silver bullet, and though it represents a significant loss, wholesale recovery of that loss would not meet the entirety of the cash demand in our NHS at present.
In 2018/19, the NHS budget was £129 Billion. Money lost to health tourism accounts for 1.4% of this total budget. In order to accommodate the growing strain of the NHS which struggles to service an ageing population, we will need a comprehensive strategy which includes massive investment. However, that does not mean we discount the cost of health tourism, because 1.4% of a large budget is no small fry. For context, the UK’s entire defence budget is 2% of our GDP.
It’s right that when the leave the EU this year we open ourselves up to the world to expand our trading relationships. We cannot become insular and self-serving, but at the same time we can not be taken advantage of. At the time of writing, 3 in 4 of the highest NHS bills racked up by foreign nationals go unpaid. This is an intolerable situation, and one that our leaders must resolve.