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Health tourism clampdown on asylum seekers questioned

13 October 2008

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A planned clampdown on “health tourism” among asylum seekers may be scrapped by the government after a revolt by doctors, it has been reported.

Ministers had threatened to withdraw free GP treatment from asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected, which would force them to pay for care privately or go without.

But doctors argued the move would be unethical – and potentially illegal – with some saying they would treat patients regardless of any new rules.

A government spokesman told the Observer: “Healthcare should not be a magnet, but there isn’t any evidence that primary care is a draw for people choosing the UK as a destination.

“People in that category are often the most vulnerable, they may have communicable diseases, and therefore the view of ministers is that they shouldn’t be denied primary care.”

Ministers first proposed denying free primary care four years ago, driven by concerns about the cost of health tourism.

But a decision has been repeatedly delayed amid objections from doctors and refugee organisations, who argued that it would be inhumane and could encourage the spread of infectious diseases.

The Home Office and Department of Health are understood to be reconsidering their position after conceding that there was no proof that free primary care was encouraging refugees to come to Britain.

Copyright © PA Business 2008

British Medical Journal

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“I work in the NHS Sector in London – and over the last 10 years I have seen the amount of immigrants and asylum seekers being treated without contributing anything massively increase. Diseases like TB, SCE, HIV/AIDS and thallasomia are now rife – and all originate from sub saharan immigrants. Maternity services are stretched to breaking point by health tourists, who routinely turn up to A&E full term, with no records or paperwork and a demand to be treated. it is a FACT – the ‘health tourism’ market is massive and costs the UK taxpayer millions – it needs to be stamped on. Doctors/nurses are afraid to turn people away for fear of being labelled racist, so turn a blind eye” – Gary, Slough

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