By Vexen Crabtree 2017
Many in the UK accuse immigrants and refugees of "health tourism" and "benefits tourism"1. 59% of all Brits think "that foreigners were a burden on the welfare system"2. Right-wing politicians, the occasional rogue (but well-meaning) doctor, and irresponsible newspapers such as The Daily Mail have exclaimed loudly that the UK's National Health Service (NHS) spends £2 billion annually on health tourists, a figure which is absurdly exaggerated. The real figure is £110-180m, which is less than the NHS spends on stationary and is less than is wasted through missed appointments3,4. The £2bn figure includes those in the UK who work and pay taxes here. Also, it is not fair to announce one-way costings; "treating UK tourists in Europe costs five times more than equivalent cost to NHS"5; and imagine if we had to pay the costs of the millions of Brits who have retired in the Mediterranean. When it comes to health tourism, the UK benefits from EU membership greatly5.
Many in the UK accuse immigrants and refugees of coming to the UK "to take advantage of a free NHS and to gain access to our benefits"1. Whether or not they believed they were here specifically to get free stuff, 59% of all Brits think (wrongly) "that foreigners were a burden on the welfare system" (only 41 per cent disagree)2. A string of right-wing politicians and disreputable newspapers have exclaimed loudly that the UK's National Health Service (NHS) spends £2 billion annually on visitors, a figure which is absurdly exaggerated.
But everything about those beliefs are wrong. There is strong evidence that most migrants who come to the UK intend to work. The vast majority do work (in fact, at a higher rate than Brits themselves). And the Government's own report (from which xenophobes extracted the £2bn figure) itself states rather very clearly that the amount due to deliberate health tourism is £110-280m annually3. The £2bn figure cited by people who don't seem to have read the actual report, includes foreign nationals who are living and working in the UK (therefore, paying their own way via taxes) - such people make up 3/4 of the £2bn figure6. And of the overall costs of overseas of services, the UK gets back about £100m from visitors' home countries3 in cases where they aren't paying tax, in accordance with our international and EU agreements4. It could claim back much, much more, but the UK is simply not very good at doing so5 and this has been made more difficult as the UK abandoned its identity-card scheme, the NHS has no way to track who should be paying for services.
Writing for The Mirror newspaper, political analyst Mikey Smith presents the relative costs to the NHS in a pie chart, adding a comment that total expenditure on health tourists is 0.3% of the total budget, and that "the NHS spends around £200m more every year on stationery than it does on health tourism [and] missed GP appointments cost around £300m a year"3.
“A study by Declan Gaffney demonstrates that after assessing the `net incomes after taxes, benefits and housing costs of low-wage EU migrants shows that, even after factoring in tax credits, EU migrants with two children are no better off in the UK than in other western European countries, while single EU migrants without children are worse off.'”
"Britain: Leading, Not Leaving: The Patriotic Case for Remaining in Europe" by Gordon Brown (2016)7
Access to free emergency health care10 via the European Health Insurance Card. "EU membership... gives UK citizens travelling in other European countries the right to access free or cheaper public healthcare"11. When Europeans use the UK's NHS, their governments pay (just like the UK government pays when Brits use healthcare services abroad)12 - in this sense, there is no such thing as 'health tourism' within the EU13. The deal is that EU citizens pay local prices for healthcare, and countries cannot charge foreigners more. In other words, the EU's scheme on healthcare is good for all travellers, and is fair for all.14
Overall, the UK benefits massively from European co-operation on health services. 42 million Brits travel abroad every year5, and treating them in Europe "costs five times more than equivalent cost to NHS"5; and imagine if we had to pay the costs of the millions of Brits who have retired in the Mediterranean. The UK benefits from EU membership greatly in this regard.
Time and efficiency. The EHIC's ease-of-use saves time, and there's no requirement to organize health care cover on a country-by-country basis when travelling in the EU.
“Janan Ganesh describes the UK as "reluctant Europeans"16,17. The UK has voted "no" to EU proposals more than anyone else since 200918. We dislike learning about the EU, we don't keep up to date on EU news19, the most prolific newspapers on the EU don't have correspondents in Brussels, and the UK is the least educated of all EU nations on the very basic facts about the EU20. We are "marked by misguided assumptions and missed opportunities"17. UK citizens' complaints about the EU are mostly based on misinformation, such as complaints about "health tourism"21. The UK has suffered from having a dominant right-wing popular press which has served to actively misinform the populace about Europe, and about the EU in particular - the faction led by Rupert Murdoch has been particularly influential22. The eventual result was the UK referendum on 2016 Jun 23 which saw "Brexit" votes narrowly outnumber those of "Remain", leading to the UK withdrawal from the EU.”
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The Independent. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Respectable and generally well researched UK broadsheet newspaper.
The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See vexen.co.uk/references.html#Economist for some commentary on this source..
The Guardian. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Respectable and generally well researched UK broadsheet newspaper..
(2016) Europe & You: South West. Published by The In Campaign Ltd, London, UK. Dated January / February 2016. A newspaper-style leaflet delivered to homes in the South West. This body resulted from debates surrounding UK's possible exit from the EU, with a vote being held in 2016 Jun 23.
(2016) Britain: Leading, Not Leaving: The Patriotic Case for Remaining in Europe. E-book. Amazon Kindle digital edition. Published by Deerpark Press, Selkirk, UK.
HM Government (UK)
(2016) Why the Government Believes that Voting to Remain in the European Union is the Best Decision for the UK. Paperback book. Published to argue the government's position ahead of the UK referendum on EU membership on 2016 Jun 23. Published in 2016 Apr, and delivered to households nationwide.
The Financial Times
(2013) Britain and the EU: In or Out?. E-book. Amazon Kindle digital edition. Drawn from articles originally published in the Financial Times between 1975 and March 2013.