The Government’s decision to charge people from outside the European Economic Area to access NHS services has been criticised in a new report.
Since April, people applying for UK visas to work, study or visit family members in Britain for longer than six months have been charged £200 to cover medical costs during their stay. Those who cannot pay are not granted visas.
But writing in the British Medical Journal, Lilana Keith of the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants and Ewout van Ginneken from Berlin University of Technology said the policy was short sighted.
They said the UK is the only nation in the EU to link immigration applications with access to health care. Currently, migrants can access primary and emergency health care free of charge but the Government is now consulting on extending charges to these services.
The authors said Government efforts to persuade people that the policy would dissuade migrants from coming to the UK and save money were “short sighted and misleading”. They said that undocumented migrants, thought to number around 618,000, already contribute to the UK economy through working and buying goods and services.
They said: “They are not free riders in the NHS but contributors. Not providing them with coverage is unfair as well as contrary to their rights as human beings.”
The report claimed the policy would not save money because emergency services are more expensive to provide and it is unlikely the NHS would be able to claw back the costs from people who were unable to pay.
It also raised concerns stopping access to preventative health care may lead to outbreaks of disease which would cost the NHS more to deal with. Plus, it highlighted the high costs of administering the policy, which would also cut into NHS budgets.
“The UK government is wrong to assume that charging migrants for access to health services will strongly reduce the strain on NHS resources,” the report said.