Farron attacks Government plans to make patients pay upfront for NHS treatment

Don’t make scapegoats out of foreigners for the crisis facing the NHS. That’s Tim Farron’s message to Jeremy Hunt as the Government says it is going to get hospitals to check upfront whether people are eligible for free NHS treatment and charge them before treatment Because NHS staff don’t have enough to do already. Tim said:

We all want to see the NHS recover money owed it to it, but this is a completely disproportionate response to what is a fairly minor problem. The Health Secretary is turning NHS staff into the Border Force, its unacceptable.

Asking people to show their ID before receiving treatment will mean longer waits for treatments and heap more pressure on already overstretched NHS staff.

The government must explain how much it expects the new system will cost to administer and what the impact on patients will be.

Instead of trying to blame foreigners for the crisis facing the NHS, Jeremy Hunt should take responsibility and give our health service the extra investment it needs.

If I were Tim, I would have taken an even stronger line. You know what annoys me a whole lot more than a few people getting treatment that they need but  technically should pay for?  Them not getting the treatment they need at all.  That’s what it boils down to. I don’t want us to end up like America where they want your credit card number before they’ll do anything. Doctors and nurses are there to treat people not act as quasi tax collectors or immigration officials.

Making scapegoats out of sick and vulnerable people is not a very nice thing to do. What the government needs to do is to give the NHS the resources it needs to function at its best. The Tories simply want to undermine it as they always have done.

What they are egging on the media to do is a bit like criticising someone for not hanging a picture straight as the house burns down around you. The NHS has bigger problems. And, you know what, if some of the tax I pay goes to treat people from abroad who desperately need medical help, then I am absolutely comfortable with it.

I was struck by an article on this written by Richard Flowers a few months ago when the Tories first mooted it on the Tower Hamlets Lib Dems website. He said:

This is an attack on two fundamental freedoms at once:

  • the NHS must be free at the point of need, without needing to prove entitlement;
  • and making people produce their papers is a step towards ID cards by the back door.

And we fear that this is yet another excuse for “racial profiling” – just who is more likely to be asked for their passports – giving more encouragement to those committing hate-crimes and making the post-Brexit fractures in our society even worse.

We all benefit from people in the UK – residents or visitors – being in good health. And everyone’s good health benefits from us working together to support the NHS.

Anecdotes, scaremongering and labelling people “health tourists” are not a basis of evidence-led policy making.

The NHS is in crisis because of Tory cuts not some unmeasurably tiny cost of visitors needing treatment, but this shambolic government once again is trying to put the blame on “foreigners”.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings