Health tourism claims are a distraction from NHS’s real problems

We know of no good evidence that “health tourism” – individuals travelling to England solely to access NHS services – is a significant burden on the NHS (Hospitals to check patients’ right to care, 6 February). Such patients are seen very rarely, if at all, in clinical practice.

Assurances that individuals with infectious diseases and those requiring “emergency treatment” will not be turned away fundamentally misunderstand how healthcare is delivered. People present with symptoms, not diagnoses. Unless people can access routine investigations, communicable diseases and life-threatening conditions will go undiagnosed. Case studies show that, even under the existing charging regulations, individuals are coming to harm.

The NHS in England sees around a 650,000 patients every 24 hours. The administrative costs involved in accurately assessing whether each patient is “lawfully resident” would be substantial. Everyone would be inconvenienced by the requirement to carry means of identification. As Nye Bevan wrote, “if the sheep are to be separated from the goats both must be classified. What began as an attempt to keep the Health Service for ourselves would end by being a nuisance to everybody.”

Full story in The Guardian, 7 February 2017