Watch out, The Sun is on the warpath again. Seemingly done with raging about the 0.7% of our annual budget spent on foreign aid putting an unbearable drain on our economy, the paper has now turned its attention to ‘health tourism’.
Three articles have been published within the last week, starting with a front page story expressing outrage at a Nigerian woman giving birth in this country. This was followed with two more articles keen to emphasise to all that our ‘soft touch’ NHS is being ‘rinsed’ by health tourists at the taxpayer’s expense.
Now I’m not saying health tourism doesn’t exist. It does, and it’s right that the government should be putting appropriate measures into place to tackle it. It’s also true that the UK visa system might need adjusting to reduce the amount of money that ends up getting owed to the NHS in the first place.
But rather than being a big drain on the cash-strapped NHS, the cost of health tourism per year is tiny. It amounts to 0.3% of the total NHS budget. This figure has been independently fact-checked. Health tourism is not the cause of current NHS problems. It’s almost irrelevant. Yet papers like The Sun peddle the narrative that our health service is in crisis because of foreigners. As with so much else, they make an easy scapegoat for lazy tabloid journalists.
But, as studies have shown, the impact of immigration – whether from the EU or from outside the EU – on the NHS is minor when compared to other factors such as population ageing and expanding treatment.
If The Sun was really concerned about the state of the NHS, perhaps it could turn its attention to the fact that it is chronically badly underfunded. Analysis has shown how the UK is a low spender on public health, both in EU and OECD terms, and has been for years.
But then that would mean raising taxes, or tightening things up to stop the wealthy avoiding tax. Given that the Murdoch empire was once found to have avoided at least £350 million in corporation tax – enough money to build seven new hospitals – it’s easy to see why that might be a tricky option for the paper.
Far more convenient to keep blaming everything on Nigerian mothers giving birth.
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