When Nigel Farage dropped his 'international AIDS health tourists' factoid in the leaders debate I wondered at the time of the wisdom of it. Sure, he'd clearly chosen something that was clear and unambiguous, that came from DoH's own figures and which couldn't be casually denied by the other parties, but how would it resonate with voters?
It's surely not coincidental that the Mail is running a major story today on, er, a government crackdown on health tourism. Now wait a minute; we're in the middle of an election campaign. What's going on? The Mail says "For the first time, hospitals are being told to ensure everyone proves they are entitled to free NHS treatment..... The measures are part of a Government drive to stop migrants and tourists abusing the Health Service, which costs up to £2billion a year". Right. So either the DoH have issued the guidance recently, during the campaign, or these are pre-existing guidelines that Tory or LibDem PR have shoved in a reporter's face, perhaps previously 'hidden' for fear of offending voters likely to bring their sick relatives to the UK for treatment.
Either way, it's surely Farage's debate point that has led to the story.
Incidentally, the measures won't solve the major problem, on which I've commented many times, at my local hospital - Nigerian women clogging up the maternity wards. The usual scam is for the Nigerian husband to register as an overseas student with an institution such as the 'Imperial College of Law and Business, 2a High Street, Peckham (above William Hill shop)' and then bring his heavily pregnant wife across to enjoy the best of free UK health care. This can still happen - the Mail reports "Under the guidelines women who are about to give birth will not have to fill in forms beforehand because maternity care is deemed 'immediately necessary' and is free to anyone regardless of whether they can pay. But staff will be encouraged to ask patients for documents once the baby has been born and chase them up with the bill."
And one thing in particular niggles. Hospitals are encouraged to appoint an 'overseas visitors manager'. Perhaps the author is ignorant of the role of the historic post of Almoner, the hospital official previously charged with such duties? Or perhaps the term would offend Muslims.