The government's Immigration Bill is likely to pose threats to public health and result in increased costs and more stress for NHS staff. Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, a group of public health experts says that with the Bill introducing a migrant health levy and providing a legal basis for greater scope for charging non-EEA visitors there will be wider threats to the health of both migrants and the established population.
The authors say that the Bill targets a vulnerable and easily scapegoated group and can only be understood in its political context. The Conservative Party is concerned about loss of support to the United Kingdom Independence Party and wants to appear tough on migration in the lead up to next year's General Election, they say. "Politicians claim these measures are necessary to cut costs of 'health tourism' and 'abuse' by illegal immigrants, and to further the government's push to reduce net migration overall. Yet the UK is a net beneficiary of health tourism and while immigrants account for 4.5% of the population in England, they are responsible for less than 2% of NHS expenditure". The authors emphasise that currently non-EEA migrants contribute 2% more in taxes than is spent on them, making them net contributors to the UK.
Dr Sarah Steele, co-author from Queen Mary, University of London, said: "While migrants coming to the UK are generally in good health, over time they face increased risk, particularly of non-communicable diseases. We know that failure to intervene early gives rise to worse outcomes for many conditions and increased cost of treatment in the long term. Healthy migrants contribute significantly to the economy, working hard and contributing to a more vibrant UK. We should not be pushing migrants away from NHS services that better their health both immediately and in the longer term."
Troubling too, is that the authors suggest NHS staff will be even further stretched as they are asked to meet additional eligibility checks and reporting requirements. This will detract from patient care at a time when there are already concerns about staff shortages and quality of care. The authors conclude: "If we do not oppose the targeting of the most vulnerable in our country we will all fall one by one."