During a Radio 4 mini-documentary on immigrants, a young illegal Brazilian couple with child were interviewed. Both worked hard but illegally, neither paid any income tax or NI, and they were living in 'grey market' social housing. If what the UK really needed was unskilled and uneducated workers, these two would have been ideal candidates for legalisation. But it was when the interviewer asked about the child's birth. "In the maternity hospital, of course" they replied. "Didn't they ask any questions about your immigration status?" the incredulous interviewer asked. "Of course not!" they snorted.
Visit the maternity wards at Lewisham hospital and you'll enter one vast farrowing pen for Nigerian village girls. From their point of view, coming to the UK to have their babies in conditions of high quality medical care, and for free, makes absolute sense. In Nigeria, a health insurance scheme operates, excluding most except government employees, and 20% of children die before the age of five. Wouldn't you lie, cheat and fraudulently manipulate your way to the UK under such circumstances?
The problem is, this is costing us billions. Yes, billions. Billions we can't afford.
The NHS staff who are responsible, from the GPs' surgery that accepts anyone with an address to its lists to hospitals that maintain a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy on immigration status, are without doubt good and well meaning people. They are healers and carers, and their job is to heal and care for all. But they don't pay for it - our imperilled economy does.
Individual voter registration gives us the opportunity to comb-out the million-plus illegals in the country. An audit of GPs' lists, with per capita payments only made for those of proven immigration or resident status, would also help solve the problem. But more than anything, a tough-love regime at the reception points of our NHS hospitals with stringent checks and a requirement for payment in full in advance for treatments given to ineligible patients will end this spendthrift waste. The US can do it, so can we.