Migrants joined GP practices every minute
Migrants are registering with family doctors at a rate of one a minute, leaving GP surgeries 'straining at the seams' as they try to cope with the impact of rising immigration, new figures show.
By Tom Whitehead
The Telegraph (U.K.), December 21, 2009
More than 600,000 people signed up with a GP practice in England and Wales last year having arrived from overseas an increase of 50 per cent in just seven years.
The number of GPs only increased by a fraction of that over the same period fuelling concerns that Labour's immigration policy has placed a huge strain on resources.
There is also concern that some of those who are registering may not even be eligible for free health care, such as illegal immigrants.
Campaigners warned the sharp rise in numbers could result in delays for existing patients and impact on the overall level of service.
Town halls have long warned that the sudden influx of migrants on local populations is piling pressure on resources such as schools, public services and health care.
The British Medical Association, which represents GPs, said everyone in the UK legitimately is entitled to health care but signalled that suitable resources should be in place for doctors.
But Dr Richard Fieldhouse, chief executive of the National Association of Sessional GPs (NASGP), which represents locum doctors, said the influx of migrant patients has led to sharp rises in work to help 'burnt out GPs'.
He said in some practices a double booking is now automatically made if the patient does not speak English because they take so long to explain treatment and deal with, often with the help of a translator over the phone.
'The workload at practices is straining at the seams,' he said.
'Quite a lot of cover is for burnt out GPs because they cannot cope with this. People can only work so many hours a week.
'Some locums have seen bookings increase by 30 per cent year on year.'
A total of 605,000 people registered with a GP in England and Wales in 2007/08 having arrived from abroad, figures from the Office for National Statistics show the equivalent of one a minute.
Of those, only one in ten 69,000 were Britons returning home from a period overseas and it is a rise of half on the 400,000 new migrant registrations in 2000/01
In comparison the number of GPs in England and Wales increased by 18 per cent over the period from 30,609 in 2001 to 36,041 last year.
The report, by think tank Migrationwatch, also raised concerns that the 605,000 was almost 100,000 higher than the number of long-term migrants those looking to stay for more than a year who the ONS estimated arrived during the year.
That suggests short-term migrants or illegal immigrants are also be registering although it may also include those long-term migrants who register some time after arriving.
The pressure comes at a time when the NHS is under huge financial pressure and has to find savings of 20 billion over the next four years.
Earlier this month ministers announced plans to cancel parts of the NHS IT scheme in a move to save 600 million, while the health service has also has been told to cut management costs by almost a third in coming years.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch, said: 'This amounts to an open door to primary care which can also lead to access to secondary care.
'The government has been dithering while the NHS has been struggling to cope with the extra numbers resulting from mass immigration.
'In present financial circumstances it is surely obvious that we do not have the resources to cope with the extra ten million people now officially projected over the next 25 years seven million as a result of immigration.'
The net impact on GPs during 2007/08 was around a third of a million because some 333,000 people also left during the year but Sir Andrew warned such a high 'churn' can also add to the strain.
Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Taxpayer's Alliance, said: 'It is very important that our health care system does not become a world health service offering free treatment to all and everyone who comes from overseas.
'Especially now the NHS is stretched in many areas it is very worrying that the numbers using it have gone up very steeply without the necessary increase in support for GPs and hospital staff.
'Existing patients must always come first and it is clearly unacceptable that someone who has paid for the NHS throughout their working life should face delays or queues as a result of recent immigration using the NHS ahead of them.'
A spokesman for the British Medical Association, said: 'Doctors' primary concern is for patients' clinical need. If people are in the UK legitimately then they have a right to health care and there should be adequate resources in place to provide this. In reality many doctors find that a lot of migrants are young and healthy and so don't tend to need to visit their GP very often.'
Damian Green, the shadow immigration minister, said: 'We have been arguing for years that the pressure on public services is one of the key reasons for a limit on immigration.'
Migrationwatch also criticised the Government for dropping plans to exempt overseas visitors from free NHS primary care.
The proposal was first raised in 2004 but in July this year it emerged that GPs would continue to maintain their discretion over who can register with them.
In August last year, midwives warned the quality of NHS care was falling because of a sharp rise in the birth rate among immigrant mothers.
A Department of Health spokesman said it was often cheaper to treat a patient early on than face a more complicated case if the problem develops.
He added that any change in the number of people registered at a GP practice is reflected in the funding that practice receives.
He said: 'GPs decide whether they register patients for NHS primary medical care. Access to a GP can have both public health and cost benefits it is better and cheaper for a GP to treat a patient at an early stage rather than risk an emergency hospital admission when a condition becomes acute.
'GPs also play a key role in the provision of public health services such as inoculations and screening, which protects the health of the British population at large. '
A migrant a minute registers with GPs: Huge increase puts doctors under pressure
By James Slack
The Daily Mail (U.K.), December 22, 2009