Failed asylum seekers set to access free treatment under the NHS

Thousands of immigrants refused refugee status, but in Britain, to be exempted from healthcare charges

21st July 2009: Failed asylum seekers are all set to get an access to free treatment under the National Health Service.

The move comes in less than a fortnight after amendments in the regulations were implemented to provide them with admittance to the hospitals in Wales.

Under the plan, “thousands” of immigrants refused refugee status, but allowed to remain in Britain, would be “exempt from charges” for healthcare.

The move is a part of an initiative to provide adequate healthcare facilities to the foreign nationals living in the UK. The other measures include free emergency treatment for overseas visitors; and giving the doctors the discretion to decide whether foreign nationals should get free NHS treatment.

Health Minister Ann Keen said the changes would bring about a clearer and a fairer system of access to free NHS services. These would maintain the confidence of the public and prevent inappropriate access, while maintaining commitment to human rights.

The minister insisted the measures struck the right balance between controlled access, protection and promotion of wider public health, besides ensuring protection of healthcare needs of the most vulnerable groups.

Viewing the issue from a different angle, critics and analysts, on the other hand, warned the Government the move was likely to encourage “health tourism”.

Reacting to the move, Dr Vivienne Nathanson of the British Medical Association said there were many people with refused asylum claim, who could not return home and required urgent treatment. The announcement though positive applied to only a group of people and did not go far enough.

The chairman of the population think-tank Migrationwatch, Sir Andrew Green, said the proposals amounted to opening the door for illegal immigrants to access the NHS.

He also blamed the Government for announcing its surrender to the immigration lobby on almost the last day of Parliament; and added they simply could not afford to offer treatment to the whole world with a financial crisis bearing down upon them.

He claimed it was unjustified that those who have paid into the system should be disadvantaged by those who have made no such contribution.

Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green asked the ministers to consider compulsory private health insurance for non-European Economic Area nationals.

He said it was a matter of urgency that the Government considered the necessity of non-EEA nationals having private health insurance to minimise the risk of health tourism.

In response, the ministers insisted the proposals were still under consideration and health insurance requirements for visitors were being studied.
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