Last night, during the party leader’s debate on TV, Nigel Farage was told that he should be ashamed of himself when he sort of said that people with HIV/AIDS come to the UK to get free treatment. But, of course, that’s just a part of his party’s xenophobic, keep the others out message.
Firstly, his figures aren’t quite accurate. Secondly, the ‘foreigners’ refers to people born abroad. It’s not clear how long these people have been in the UK; and it’s quite possible that they are British citizens.
The NHS is one of the most distinguishing features of the UK. It was born in post-war austerity—an austerity and rationing almost inconceivable today—and it remains the most cost-effective, comprehensive, competent health care system of any in the world. It means that you and I will not be bankrupted by illness.
Is there such a thing as ‘health tourism’? In a reverse way, yes. Plenty of Brits go to Hungary or India for dental or cosmetic procedures; the cost in these countries is much less than here, so they can get a free holiday on top of their treatment. But these are fringe procedures, as any ‘private’ procedures are, the ‘cream’. If you need something more complex, such as intensive care, you and I simply cannot afford this privately.
If you have HIV/AIDS you need treatment, not discrimination; you need comfort, not the slightly disguised moralistic condemnation of your lifestyle. And with treatment you can remain in a stable condition, and flourish.
There are residence conditions that you must fulfil if you seek treatment for on-going illness on the NHS, illnesses which aren’t emergencies. But if you, a visitor and have an emergency, your initial treatment will be free.
A well respected US obstetric and gynaecology specialist, and blogger, Dr Jen Gunter visited the UK last summer. Her son got something in his eye when visiting Westminster Abbey. She was unable to remove this, despite buying a bottle of Evian and trying to flush out his eye. She took him to St Thomas’s Hospital, just across the river. What then happened amazed her (here); most of the 800-odd commentators weren’t amazed at all.
That is the NHS I recognise. We all recognise that things aren’t perfect, that they could be improved; and if we are politicians, we see the ‘need’ for ‘change’. But many of today’s problems are the result of politicians interference. Remember the Tories’ promise of ‘no top-down reorganisation’ (for England and Wales)? That at least hasn’t happened here. And the NHS is ‘for all’, not just those deemed acceptable by a political party.
Robert Campbell is a retired surgeon.