Socialist Worker

Facts go walkabout on 'health tourism'

Issue No. 1883

MINISTERS WERE caught out in their attempt to whip up a scare story about healthcare and asylum seekers over Christmas.

Health secretary John Reid targeted asylum seekers and visitors to Britain, accusing them of 'stealing treatment from the people of this country'. He claimed people from abroad getting treatment which they are not entitled to undermined the NHS.

But Reid immediately ran into problems when challenged to produce facts to back up his claim.

His health minister John Hutton admitted the government hasn't a clue how much supposed 'health tourism' actually costs. Hutton was reduced to blethering on the BBC that the government's 'facts' came from the Tories, newspapers and a debt collection agency.

Home secretary David Blunkett wants to round up refugee children and put them in care. Now Reid wants to crack down on pregnant women coming to Britain on a six-month visa.

Health professionals laid into New Labour's claims.

Dr Edwin Borman from the British Medical Association said there has been no definitive research showing 'health tourism' is a significant problem. 'Certain ministers seem to want to highlight this issue from time to time, usually when there is another story that they don't want to hit the news,' he said.

Newham General Hospital in east London is in an area of London with a large number of asylum seekers and immigrant communities. Its director of finance, Ian O'Connor, revealed that 'health tourism' is hardly a major problem.

He admitted that a study found that in the last three months only 17 people out of the many thousands who received treatment may not have been technically entitled to it.

If New Labour wants to tackle a 'major problem' in healthcare, what about nurses' pay? Staff shortages? Crumbling hospitals? Gruelling waiting times? But it wants to fool us into ignoring these real issues by bashing asylum seekers and visitors to Britain instead.


Report slams government screening plan

A LEADING think-tank has trashed New Labour's plans to single out migrants coming to Britain for screening for AIDS, HIV, TB and other diseases.

The Institute for Public Policy Research published a report at the end of last year saying such a scheme would create more problems than it solved. Dr Richard Coker, a public health specialist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, concluded in the report that the screening plan would be ineffective and costly, and may end up having a detrimental impact on public health.

He argues the government should base its policies on 'evidence, cost and benefits' and 'not knee-jerk reactions to the ill considered and unworkable demands of the anti-immigration lobby.'

Yet New Labour's witch-hunt of refugees feeds press stories that asylum seekers are 'disease carriers'. This is despite evidence from a pilot scheme in Kent, started in 2002 and run by the Home Office, which has tested 5,000 asylum seekers for TB. The results published last year show not one was found to have an infectious disease.

For Dr Coker's report go >> here


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News
Sat 10 Jan 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1883
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