It’s not surprising this research showed that only 33% of migrants register with a GP. The barriers are numerous, be they cultural, linguistic, administrative or simply related to a misunderstanding of what an individual is entitled to in the UK.
Much of the blame can be placed on an antiquated, paper-based system run through individual practices. There is no other Government department that operates this way – driving licences and passports, for example, are all obtainable online and through a centralised system.
As is often the way in the NHS, when you look at the groups that are the most vulnerable you realise there is a problem that is symptomatic of a systemic failing.
Any British citizen wishing to travel to Europe can apply or renew their European Health Insurance Card online, by phone or post. If we can do this for the whole of Europe, why do we not have a centralised system for the NHS, where people can update their details as needed?
This would solve the issue of ghost patients and negate the issue of list cleansing. And any new migrant staying for more than six months should be able to apply for an NHS number at the same time as their visa, making sure everyone knows what they are entitled to.
Dr Sam Everington is a GP in east London and chair of Tower Hamlets CCG