600,000 illegal immigrants to be barred from GP care
By JAMES SLACK
Last updated at 20:46pm on 2nd December 2007
Illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers could be barred from receiving free GP care.
The ban is part of a Government strategy to encourage them to return home.
They would be blocked from obtaining anything but emergency care in casualty departments, under the joint Home Office and Department of Health plan.
Last night, critics questioned whether the ban would deter anyone who is willing to break the law to live here.
The 600,000 affected would simply turn to hospitals for treatment, placing greater pressure on resources, they warned.
Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green said: “The only real solution is to remove people who have no right to live in this country.
“If the Government continues to allow hundreds of thousands of people to live here illegally there are inevitably going to be extra strains on the health service and all other public services.”
Government guidance sent to GPs states they should not normally treat failed asylum seekers and illegal immigrants.
But doctors have the discretion to provide care if they wish. Most are understood to do so, usually because they have no way of knowing if a person is in the UK illegally.
The review would place the onus on GPs to find out a patient's legal status, and turn them away if they do not have the right to live here.
Ministers are struggling to deport Britain's illegal immigrants, who include up to 400,000 failed asylum seekers.
Removals recently slumped to their lowest level for five years.
A view has emerged that, if we make it hard for these people to live here without permission, they may choose to return home themselves.
But Jill Rutter, of the Institute for Public Policy Research, said:
“This will increase community tensions. What signals are going to be sent out if queues of asylum seekers are waiting at A&E departments because they can't register with a GP?”
She said it could also increase risks to public health. “If you are unable to immunise people, it increases the risk of an outbreak in communicable diseases.”
She added: “The Government is in danger of normalising what many people will see as a breach of human rights – someone's right to basic health care provision.”
The Government is trying to find a way to allow GPs to check a patient's status without overburdening surgery staff with bureaucracy.
One possible option is tying the scheme to foreign national ID cards, due to be introduced next year.
The Home Office said: “We are fulfilling our commitment to review, jointly with the Department of Health, the rules governing access to the NHS by foreign nationals.”
The review would be out for consultation in the New Year, it said.