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NHS tourists welcome here

Copperfield has heard Darzi centres just want patients, and they don't care how they get them

Let me start this week's column by using the word ‘allegedly' – that cop-out so favoured by topical news quizzes. I do so because I have not the slightest morsel of evidence that any of the following is true. But I did hear it from one of my best mates and he wouldn't steer me wrong.

He works in That London – and that's as specific as I'm going to be. He practises from the standard big surgery plus one branch surgery set-up, and just about halfway between the two the local PCT has opened one of those eight-till-late, one-stop-shop, seven-day, walk-in centre thingies.

Now, my mate happens to work in an area with a large immigrant population and let's just say that not everyone who tried to register with his practice for NHS services has been in possession of paperwork that would pass muster. If any of his reception staff decided to change career they could walk into a job with the UK Border Agency without so much as a day's training. What they don't know about photoshopping Eastern European passports and the various textures of card and paper used to make African ID documents isn't worth knowing.

The local PCT has been quite strict about the proof of ID and residence requirements around the registration of patients by GP surgeries and was equally clear that the very same rules and regulations would apply to the new Darzi khazi set-up.

Obviously, my mate's practice manager kept a closer than usual watch on the practice's list size over the past few months. And here are the things (allegedly).

Folk are turning up at his surgery to book routine appointments only to find that the computer says no. Patients who've been registered with my mate for donkey's years and who have absolutely no intention of switching their allegiance are told that they are now patients of the walk-in centre. Even though they only popped in to have a quick gander around and to try the doctors out with a simple problem like a sprained ankle of a boring Sunday evening.

They don't remember signing anything that looked like a registration document (allegedly). In fact they simply filled in a questionnaire asking for their background medical details, which they thought was fair enough as the doctor they were about to see wouldn't have access to their records.

Well, so what? A few patients get their registrations diverted. It could even be a heaven-sent opportunity for my mate to offload a few heartsinks onto the chaps down the road.

A quick phone call was all it took to find that the new boys had registered just over 1,000 patients since the grand opening ceremony. My mate's practice hadn't lost anything like as many patients as that.

It seemed that not only was the eight-till-late hoodwinking patients into registering with them but it was also doing so without checking any form of ID (allegedly).

NHS tourists? Welcomed with open arms into our shiny new surgeries to make the numbers look good? Whatever you do, don't tell the Daily Mail.

'Sick Notes' by Dr Tony Copperfield is out now, available from Monday Books.

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Sick Notes by Dr Tony Copperfield is out now, published by Monday Books.