Healthcare in Britain - first they came for the immigrants

NHS and public sector trade unionists speak out in defence of universal health care.

Karen Reissman Greg Dropkin
8 July 2013

We completely oppose the proposals from Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to charge non-EU migrants for using the NHS.

When the NHS was created on 5th July 1948, one of its founding principles was universal health care. This meant that everyone in Britain had the same access to the health service. Nye Bevan explicitly refuted the argument that foreign visitors should not benefit from the health service funded by UK taxation.

Bevan wrote “How do we distinguish a visitor from anybody else? Are British citizens to carry means of identification everywhere to prove that they are not visitors? What began as an attempt to keep the Health Service for ourselves would end by being a nuisance to everybody. The whole agitation has a nasty taste. Instead of rejoicing at the opportunity to practice a civilized principle, Conservatives have tried to exploit the most disreputable emotions in this among many other attempts to discredit socialized medicine.“

Discriminating against non-EU migrants is racist. It is completely contrary to the medical ethics of clinical staff. On public health grounds, the proposals are a disaster. Health professionals do not want illness to go undiagnosed. They want everyone in Britain to feel encouraged to access treatment, in their own interest and in the interest of everyone’s health.

The Conservative-LibDem Coalition’s proposal to charge non-EU migrants for NHS care is a cynical attempt to divert people’s attention from the real source of the problems affecting the health service. It is also the thin end of a thick wedge.

Across the country A&E units are under intolerable pressures due to real terms spending cuts despite the supposed ring-fencing of health spending. The ’111’ service that was supposed to replace NHS Direct is in virtual meltdown. Waiting lists grow. Thousands of staff - clinicians as well as supposed ’pen pushers’ - face redundancy in Trusts across Britain. Wards and even whole hospitals are closing.

The NHS crisis does not stem from migrants abusing the system. Estimates of the supposed costs of so-called ’health tourism’ vary dramatically from under £35m to more than £200m. These sums might sound substantial, but even the higher figure accounts for less than 0. 17% of the overall NHS budget. Compare this with the £20bn the Tory-led government is slashing from the NHS through ’efficiency savings’, nearly 20% of the total. In proportional terms this is the biggest cut in health spending of any country including beleaguered Greece. Then look at the £3bn price tag for implementing the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which was never in a party manifesto and is a thinly disguised charter for privatisation.

We the undersigned entirely oppose the proposed charges and are commited to ensuring our union campaigns against them. Healthworkers are not border police. Overstretched NHS staff should not be faced with completing still more irrelevant paperwork, so taking time away from the job of providing real care.

This proposal is not really about saving money. It is about deflecting the blame for the NHS crisis away from the real culprits: the Government, the bailed-out bankers and the private sector corporations looking to profit from healthcare. It is also about making palatable to the public the idea of charging for more and more NHS services for all of us, regardless of nationality. In short, the Tory-led coalition wants to put an end to universal healthcare, free at the point of need.

From its birth in 1948 migrant workers were crucial to building the NHS and 65 years on they are as crucial as ever to the functioning of our health service. We reject the cruel game of divide and rule, and stand with migrant workers and patients as part of our commitment to defending the NHS.

On the 65th anniversary of the NHS, we uphold all of its founding principles, including universal health care. We call on all supporters of the NHS to do likewise. And we strongly urge readers to join us in the TUC-backed demonstration at the Tory party conference in Manchester on Sunday 29 September.

Signatories (all in a personal capacity) include:

Jackie Applebee-Turner (Tower Hamlets BMA)

Nik Barstow (Unite healthworker, Greater Manchester)

Hannah Basson (Equalities Officer, Unite Gloucester Health Branch)

Caroline Bedale (UNISON healthworker, Manchester Community & Mental Health)

Andrew Berry (Islington UNISON)

Eileen Best (UNISON local government member)

George Binette (Camden UNISON branch secretary)

Kambiz Boomla (Tower Hamlets BMA and Medical Practitioners’ Union - Unite)

Martin Booth (UNISON, Cambridge Health)

Mark Boothroyd (UNISON, Guy’s & St Thomas’ Hospital, London)

Alison Brown (UNISON, Yorkshire Ambulance Service Branch)

Mike Calvert (Islington UNISON Asst Branch Secretary)

Maggie Cook (UNISON National Executive Council)

Steve Cooke (UNISON local government member)

Paul Cooney (NHS UNISON steward)

Helen Davies (Barnet UNISON Branch Chair and National Executive Council)

Zena Dodgson (UNISON healthworker, Surrey)

Jane Doolan (Islington UNISON Branch Secretary)

Greg Dropkin (UNISON, Liverpool Community & Hospitals Health)

Pierre Ellis (Unite, King’s College Hospital, London)

Dr Jonathan Folb (Consultant Microbiologist, Liverpool)

Kevin Frank (UNISON Leicestershire Health)

Suzy Franklin (UNISON, Plymouth Health)

Prof Derek Gould (BMA member & Consultant Radiologist,
Royal Liverpool Hospital)

Peter Hinchcliffe (Retired Healthworker, Unite)

Charlie Hore (Community & Voluntary Organisations Branch Secretary, UNISON, Greater London)

Dan Jeffery (Asst Branch Secretary, Lambeth UNISON)

John Jones (UNISON National Executive Council)

Frances Kelly (UNISON healthworker and steward, Manchester)

David Kersey (Coventry UNISON Branch Secretary)

John McLoughlin (Tower Hamlets UNISON Branch Secretary & Local Government Service Group Executive)

Steve Mills (UNISON Bristol Local Government Branch)

Brian Mulvey (Leeds UNISON Branch Secretary)

Dr David Neary (Social Policy Analyst, UCU)

Sandy Nicoll (SOAS (School of Oriental & African Studies)
UNISON Branch Secretary)

Adrian O’Malley (Mid-Yorkshire Health UNISON Branch Secretary &
Health Service Group Executive)

Vicky Perrin (UNISON National Executive Council)

Tony Phillips (London Fire & Emergency Planning Authority
UNISON Branch Secretary)

Karen Reissmann (Healthworker & UNISON National Executive Council)

Jon Rogers (Lambeth UNISON Branch Secretary & National Executive Council)

Marshajane Thompson (Havering UNISON Branch Secretary)

Katherine Turner (RCN, Guy’s & St Thomas’ Hospital, London)

Barry Walden (Camden UNISON co-chair)

Phoebe Watkins (Camden UNISON co-chair & Convenor, Adult Social Care)

Max Watson (London Metropolitan UNISON chair and
National Executive Council)

Tony Wilson (UNISON National Executive Council)

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