NHS ‘eligibility’ tests for Brexit puts strain on emergencies, Tower Hamlets GPs warn
- Credit: Mike Brooke
Hospitals soon having to check if patients are eligible for free NHS care before they’re treated has come under fire from East End GPs and Tower Hamlets Council.
Policies being introduced in the government's Brexit preparations put extra burdens on already over-stretched hospital staff and have a knock on effect on emergencies, the town hall fears.
Now a joint letter has been sent to the Health Secretary from the Mayor and the Local Medical committee to put an end to the bureaucracy which they say will put people off seeking medical help—even those who are eligible.
People would end up relying on emergency treatment which is free to everyone and is not subject to identity checks, doctors predict.
"Charging overseas people brings fear of deportation in immigrant communities," Tower Hamlets medical committee chair Dr Jackie Applebee warned.
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"It's not cost effective and goes against the founding principles of the NHS as a publicly-funded health service that's free at the point of delivery."
She quoted the founder Nye Bevan in 1948 who never intended anyone having to pay for treatment.
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"Bevan asked how we distinguish a 'visitor' and whether British citizens would need to carry identification," Dr Applebee added. "Bevan said if sheep are separated from goats, both must be classified.
"Charging for healthcare has a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable and marginalised."
The Department of Health is urging hospitals to be ready for Brexit preparations and introduce checks on EU citizens "immediately after exit day" from October 31.
But Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs stressed: "Hostile environment policies cause harm by forcing one of our most valuable and trusted institutions to conduct 'eligibility' checks which are counter-productive.
"They bar people from health services. It simply cannot be right that healthcare is denied to anyone who needs it."
Barts Health Trust which runs the Royal London and Mile End hospitals took part in a pilot test to ask new patients to prove "eligibility".
The trial found that only one out of every 180 patients, half of one per cent, were not actually eligible. This resulted in "a negligible amount" of fees for the NHS in the face of administrative costs of having to carry out the checks.