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Majority of GPs back Government’s plans to charge migrants, Pulse survey finds



Exclusive GPs support the Government’s plans to charge migrants to access the NHS by a margin of almost two-to-one, despite strong opposition from the BMA and the RCGP, according to a Pulse survey.

A snapshot poll of 647 GPs from across the UK, conducted over the past week, found that 55% of respondents supported the proposed levy on migrants before they use the NHS. Some 30% were opposed to the plans, with the remainder ‘don’t knows’.

The Government’s plans also appear to have support even among GPs who studied overseas. Some 48% of the 113 survey respondents who are international medical graduates said they backed the levy, with 34% opposed.

The results follow the publication of an independent report commissioned and published by the Department of Health earlier this week, which found that such a levy could raise £200m a year. It also concluded that the public supported the idea ‘in principle.’

The report prompted the RCGP to warn that GPs must not become a ‘new border agency’ policing the NHS, while the BMA has previously said the plans could be ‘detrimental’ to patients and also affect the NHS workforce.

Under the new system, the levy will be set at around £150 for students and at around £200 for other temporary migrants. The DH predicts the levy could raise up to £1.9bn over a ten-year period, based on approximately 490,000 applicants who would be required to pay.

Responding to the Pulse survey, Dr Maurice Eakin, a GP in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, said: ‘They [migrants] get better care here than in their own countries and if we went to their countries even on holiday we are expected to take out private medical insurance.’

Manchester GP Dr Ravi Mene said: ‘All visitors must have health insurance which should be chargeable at the point of use. This happens even in European countries.’

Another GP who asked not to be named added: ‘I work in an area with a high level of migrants accessing our services. This often involves interpreters, double and multiple appointments and a high level of referral onwards. In the past we also had a large number of people moving to our areas from EU countries and presenting with infertility requesting referral for IVF.’

However many GPs who supported the plans said practices should not be responsible for policing the system. Dr George Paige said he supported the plans ‘as long as the area team administers it’, while another GP who asked not to be named said administration of the scheme should not be ‘dumped’ on GP practices.

Other survey respondents were strongly opposed to the plans. Dr Nick Mann, a GP in Hackney, east London, warned that the plans were ‘a slippery slope’, ‘not cost-effective’ and would encourage xenophobia.

Kent GP Dr Hester Blaber questioned why the Government did not do more to claim back the money spent on treating overseas patients visiting the UK. ‘Much more money could be recouped this way than by trying to police a levy,’ he said.

Commenting on the independent review earlier this week, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: ‘Having a universal health service free at the point of use rightly makes us the envy of the world, but we must make sure the system is fair to the hardworking British taxpayers who fund it. We have one of the most generous systems in the world when it comes to healthcare for foreign visitors, but it’s time for action to ensure the NHS is a national health service – not an international one.’

But RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada said: ‘It is imperative that GPs are not tasked with being a “new border agency” in policing the NHS.’

‘Limiting access to NHS services will fundamentally change one of the founding principles of general practice – that healthcare is free at the point of need,’ she added.

‘GPs have a duty of care to all people seeking healthcare, and should not be expected to police access to healthcare and turn people away when they are at their most vulnerable.’

Survey results in full

Do you support the Government’s plans to introduce a levy for migrants to use the NHS?

Yes – 358 (55.3%)

No – 197 (30.4%)

Don’t know – 92 (14.2%)

 

Of 113 international medical graduates who responded:

Yes – 54 (47.8%)

No – 39 (34.5%)

Don’t know – 20 (17.7%)

 

About the survey

Pulse launched this survey of readers on 15 October, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. The 26 questions asked covered a wide range of GP topics, to avoid selection bias on any one issue. The survey was advertised to readers via our website and email newsletters, with a prize draw for a Samsung Tab 2 tablet as an incentive to complete the survey.

As part of the survey, respondents were asked to specify their job title. A small number of non-GPs were screened out to analyse the results for this question. GPs were also asked on a voluntary basis to provide their GMC number and 549 of the 647 GP respondents did so, although these were not verified or used to screen out respondents.