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More than 100 GPs sign letter to Pulse opposing migrant charging

More than 100 GPs have signed a letter to Pulse arguing that overseas visitors are being wrongly blamed for increased demand and rising costs in the health service.

The letter, signed by 185 GPs and other health professionals, is a response to a Pulse survey from last month which showed that more than three-quarters of GPs are in favour of charging foreign visitors for accessing primary care.

The signatories – 133 of whom are GPs – say the truth is that political decisions leading to ‘unrelenting cuts and a push to privatisation’ are responsible for making the NHS unsustainable.

Led by Dr Ron Singer, a retired GP now chair of Doctors in Unite, and Tower Hamlets GP and LMC vice-chair Dr Jackie Applebee, the signatories include Dr Louise Irvine, a GP in Lewisham and parliamentary candidate for the National Health Action Party, and BMA deputy chair and Guardian columnist Dr Kailash Chand.

The letter argues that despite the outcome of the Pulse survey, GPs are against charging of migrants ‘as demonstrated at last year’s LMCs conference’ and that GPs could not take on the extra work of acting as ‘agents of border control’ even if they were paid to do so.

It comes as the DH is considering ‘where to draw the line’ on charging non-UK resident patients to use general practice services.

The letter says: ‘The view that “foreigners” are responsible for the crisis in the NHS is erroneous, when the truth is that the crisis in the health service has nothing to do with foreign visitors and everything to do with the unrelenting cuts and push to privatisation undertaken by this and previous governments.

‘GPs are against acting as agents of border control, as demonstrated at last year’s LMC Conference, which voted that GPs should not become embroiled in immigration issues. GPs and practice staff are overwhelmed already and do not have the capacity to take on this extra work even if paid to do so.

‘NHS costs for treating visitors are relatively small and likely to be expensive and difficult to recover.

‘Migrants are a net benefit to the health service; many of them work in it, often on very low wages, and keep a hard pressed service going. It is time to stop looking for convenient scapegoats and lay the blame for the fragmentation and underfunding of the NHS at the door of those really responsible: the coalition, the Prime Minister, Jeremy Hunt and Andrew Lansley before him.’