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Restrictions on migrant access to GPs will ‘cost more than they save’

Government proposals to restrict migrant access to primary care unless they pay a ‘levy’ are likely to backfire as they are then more likely to present as a costly emergency, says a doctors’ group.

Instead there should make a ‘modest investment’ in primary care to care for all migrants, as this will generate greater savings for the UK on the whole by preventing sick migrants from ending up in hospital, says the submission to the Government consultation.

The submission from Doctors of the World UK, part of the international humanitarian organisation Médecins du Monde, gives some stark warnings over the public health consequences of requiring GPs to charge for care.

The Government published plans in July for all those in the UK for a ‘limited period’ to have to pay a levy for free NHS treatment upon entering the country of between £200 and £500 per year.

If they do not, then the Government suggests that they should have to pay for all primary care treatment up-front, although the costs from emergency care in hospital would be recouped later.

Doctors of the World UK said that the plans would cost more than they save.

They say: ‘We believe that limiting access to primary care is detrimental for individual and public health, will increase health inequalities in many areas, will damage the doctor/patient relationship and will cost far more to enforce than the NHS is likely to recoup.

‘Individuals denied access to primary care will eventually present to emergency health services with advanced illnesses which are more complicated and take longer, and cost much more, to treat.

‘No-one should be barred from primary healthcare. GPs are our frontline defence against poor public and personal ill-health. They save the NHS money by treating patients early and well.’

The group added that a ‘modest investment’ in primary care to treat all migrants would ‘repay the public purse and health of the nation several-fold’.

It said: ‘[L]ast year the NHS estimates it spent £33 million treating foreign nationals and wrote off £12 million of this sum. This represents about 0.01% of the £107 billion NHS budget.

‘These sums are considerably less than the net contribution made to the UK by migrants of 1.02% of GDP, or £16.3 billion, according to the OECD.’

However, the organisation said it would support a move to charge those visitors to the UK for healthcare who have the means to pay, if all healthcare staff are given sufficient training on new rules on eligibility which meant that the most vulnerable patients were still treated regardless of their migration status.

It said: ‘Clear guidance and training should be made available to physicians and healthcare staff by the Department of Health about the rules of entitlement to healthcare, anti-discriminatory practices, and providing sensitive care to excluded people.’