Britain’s supposed “envy of the world” National Health Service (NHS) may soon be charging non-British patients for emergency services provided by the system, which is usually “free” at the point of use.
A recent consultation has determined that the strain on the National Health Service from foreign “health tourists” and economic migrants is so great that the institution is at risk if more efforts are not made to raise revenue and deliver an equitable service for the British public.
Founded in 1948, the NHS is funded through taxation upon the British public. Despite the fetishisation over the service by the political classes, the media, and left-wing activists, the National Health Service has severely deteriorated over recent decades, due in part to Britain’s burgeoning population, an increasing NHS bureaucracy, and waste on seemingly recreational procedures.
Now, as hundreds of thousands of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants are set to gain access to the UK on January 1st, proposals for a charge of between £20 ($33) and £100 ($165) are being drawn up to ensure that a greater financial drain on the system is not incurred.
Critics have already argued that Britain’s immigration levels, as well as the nature of “health tourism” in the country, is fundamentally unsustainable. The notion of a nationalised health service has also come under attack more recently as the NHS has been repeatedly hit by scandals over the quality of care.
A British Health minister, Lord Howe, commented: “We know that we need to make changes across the NHS to better identify and charge visitors and migrants. Introducing charging at primary care is the first step to achieving this. We are already looking at taking action, and next year we will set out our detailed plans to clamp down on the abuse of our NHS.”
Unions have already lashed out against the scheme, which they claim could well add another layer of administrative management and end up costing the taxpayer more than what could potentially be recovered in charges.
Dr Mark Porter, chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) union said: “This could mean the system of administering the new charging system will end up actually costing more to run than it collects in revenue. There remains a real risk that some migrants and short-term visitors who desperately need care could be discouraged from approaching the NHS if they cannot pay the proposed charges.
A UK Department of Health report this year estimated that up to £500m ($824m) a year could be recovered through better charging for use of the NHS by visitors. The sum is indeed a paltry figure compared to the NHS’s mammoth £100bn ($165bn) annual budget.
The NHS employs more than 1.7m people and the NHS.uk website boasts that only the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the Wal-Mart supermarket chain, and the Indian Railways directly employ more people.
When the NHS was founded, its budget was £437m ($720m), or around £9bn ($14.8bn) in today’s terms.