As NHS 111 helpline is revealed to be in chaos, one widow claims husband could have been saved if he hadn’t been forced to rely on it instead of doctor
Barbara Foster’s grief at the death of her husband, Reginald, will always be mingled with anger, regret — and the terrible conviction that his life might have been saved had he been able to consult a local GP, instead of relying on the NHS 111 phoneline, which failed him so terribly.
When Reg fell ill with abdominal pains last month, Barbara rang their doctor’s surgery, hoping for an out-of-hours visit from their local GP.
Instead, an automated message instructed her to call 111, where she was referred to an untrained call centre worker with no grasp of the gravity of Reg’s worsening condition, his full medical history, or his desperate need for attention.
Though Barbara was assured an ambulance would be with them in half an hour, she and Reg, 64, waited three hours for it to arrive. By the time it finally did, it was too late.
Reg had suffered a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm, a tear to a major blood vessel, and died at the London Chest Hospital three hours later, at 2am on May 2, from a cardiac arrest.
We cannot know for sure that his life would have been saved had he been able to consult his normal GP service, who knew his history of heart problems, from the start.
However, Barbara is left with a terrible legacy of ‘what ifs?’ — and, of course, a life without her beloved Reg.
It was 8pm when Barbara rang their GP’s surgery to speak to an emergency doctor, but a recorded message instructed her to call 111 instead. ‘A woman answered and I told her Reg’s symptoms and heart history — she said an ambulance would be there in half an hour.’
Reg lay on their bed, crying out in pain. When, after 45 minutes, the ambulance had still failed to arrive, Barbara — in increasing desperation — phoned 999.
Though Reg’s details were logged on their system, it seems the 111 operator had chosen to classify him, for whatever reason, as ‘non-urgent’.
‘When the operator told me, “We’re rather busy. We’re dealing with emergencies,” I lost my cool,’ Barbara says. ‘I shouted: “But this is an emergency!”’ Another two hours passed, and Reg deteriorated still further. ‘He was rolling around in agony, repeating: “Oh, the pain.” I kept going outside and pacing the street, looking for the ambulance.’
A crew of two paramedics arrived at 11pm. ‘Reg’s face was grey and his eyes rolled, and in that moment I knew he was going to die. They put an oxygen mask on him, but he tried to take it off, saying: “I can’t breathe.” They were his last words to me.’
‘I’m so, so angry,’ she says. ‘If a ruptured artery is caught soon enough it can be mended. Because of the delays and the unprofessional sloppiness of the whole system, he had no chance at all.’
Baby died ‘because he fell ill at the weekend’: Panicking hospital nurses told mother ‘there are no doctors’
A mother has told of her despair as she begged for a doctor to save her dying baby at a hospital with a shortage of weekend staff. Merilyn Bartley, 46, said hours passed without a specialist checking on her five-month-old son Dominic, who had undergone major heart surgery.
She described an ‘air of panic’ as nurses frantically searched for a doctor when his condition started to deteriorate.
Prompt action would have saved the child’s life, an inquest heard.
But crucial medical attention, equipment and test results were not available because he fell ill at the weekend.
Dominic, who had had heart surgery at the Royal Brompton Hospital, was transferred to Barnet Hospital in North London to be monitored. He arrived on a Friday evening and the next day his condition started to deteriorate.
His mother said: ‘I was very worried as we hadn’t seen doctors for a long time. ‘There was an air of panic on the ward. I remember the nurses saying: “There are no doctors”.’
She said her family had been ‘really badly let down’. She added: ‘There was nobody to help. What do you do as a parent when your child is dying and there is nobody attending to him?’
Medical staff were meant to transfer Dominic back to the Royal Brompton for specialist care if he became unwell. However the on-call consultant failed to examine the baby, even after his condition suddenly worsened. On Saturday night Dominic stopped breathing and his face turned blue and mottled.
He was rushed to theatre but suffered a cardiac arrest and died on Sunday morning, just 36 hours after being admitted.
A specialist report eventually showed that his lungs had been overwhelmed by high levels of fluid.
On-call consultant Professor Anthony Costello said he would have ordered an urgent transfer back to the Royal Brompton if he had known about the problems.
But he claimed he did not have access to an echocardiogram machine, which would have flagged up Dominic’s dangerously high blood pressure.
He also revealed that he did not get the results of vital tests until after the baby’s death because it was the weekend.
He told the inquest: ‘You wouldn’t get a report on a Saturday morning, it would have been the following week. Most hospitals at weekends don’t get consultant reports.
‘You need a good echocardiogram service and someone who is using it a lot. You won’t get that on a weekend at Barnet.
‘You don’t want a child with any risk of complications in a district general hospital at a weekend.’
Expert witness Professor Robert Tulloh said Professor Costello’s decision not to examine the child was a ‘failure to provide basic medical care’, adding: ‘If he had taken action it would have prevented his death.’
Coroner Andrew Walker adjourned the inquest until later this month so he could hear further evidence.
But he expressed concern that ‘crucial pieces of the jigsaw’ at the hospital were missing because of low weekend staffing and a lack of specialist services. He said: ‘You are missing a great deal of the facilities that you need at the weekend.’
The Daily Mail has highlighted fears that Britain’s out-of-hours health system is overstretched, with devastating consequences for patients needing care.
The Barnet Hospital Trust said it would be inappropriate to comment until the inquest was completed.
The British school that children WANT to go to: Academy bans all homework – but pupils have to stay until 5pm for extra study time
It is the scourge of schoolchildren up and down the country.
Classes can often be heard letting out a collective groan when the teacher mentions homework, ruining plans for a night watching films or playing out with friends.
However, this will not be a concern for pupils attending a pioneering new secondary school in Norfolk – because it has decided to ban all homework.
Instead, the 1100 children who will attend the Jane Austen Academy in Norwich will do longer days at school.
The mixed free school for 11-18-year-olds – which will specialise in English and the humanities – is set to open in September 2014.
The school yesterday unveiled its prospective principal, Claire Heald, who said that city children would do extra study at school as part of the extended day, which could last until about 5pm.
She said: ‘Rather than setting homework that pupils could go home and struggle with at home, and where there may be limited access to computers, they will do that as independent study in the day.
‘We are saying that when they go home they should enjoy quality family time.
‘There will not be any traditional homework – and that has been really well received by parents who respect the fact that family time will be family time.’
But Ms Heald said the school would still expect youngsters to study at home ahead of crucial exams.
She’s ready to create a new dramatic template in the UK after French president Francois Hollande called for the end of homework in primary schools last October.
The French leader insisted independent learning at school would enhance equality because kids who get help with homework from parents have a huge head start.
The exciting initiative has already sparked keen interest from other headteachers in Norfolk.
Peter Devonish, headteacher of Neatherd High School in Dereham, said: ‘My initial thought is that it’s really compelling. ‘It sounds like a really good idea.
‘Having the children on site a bit longer to consolidate their learning is a really good idea. ‘The children can finish work and they can have their time with the family.’
But he warned: ‘I have got two stumbling blocks. ‘One is our rurality and getting children home at that time, and the other is changing staff contracts so they can be here until 5.30pm.
Mr Devonish said they set pupils project-based homework, such as looking at an energy efficient house, which allowed them to combine independent study with working with their parents.
Craig Morrison, principal of King’s Lynn Academy, agreed that the whole prickly issue of homework should be looked at.
Mr Morrison said: ‘I can understand why people want to experiment with this because it is one I would not say anybody can say they have got definitively right over the years.
‘And if they are starting a new school then it gives them the chance to try out new things.’ He added: ‘A large problem with homework, which we have tackled, has been that not enough is done with it.
‘With homework, a lot of effort can go into it, so it’s about celebrating what children do rather than processing it in terms of marking it and handing it back.’
Obese mothers may pass on health risks to grandchildren
More rodent wisdom
Obese women may be passing health problems such as heart disease and diabetes onto their grandchildren, a new study has suggested.
Researchers have discovered that conditions linked to obesity can skip a generation.
Researchers have discovered that conditions linked to obesity can skip a generation, leaving the children of moderately obese mothers apparently healthy.
However, their grandchildren are more likely to suffer from obesity and related diseases such as diabetes.
The findings provide growing evidence for how lifestyle choices by parents can pre-programme the genes of their children and even their grandchildren.
Dr Amanda Drake, senior clinical research fellow at the University of Edinburgh, where the work was carried out, said: “Given the worldwide increase in obesity, it is vital that we gain an understanding of how future generations may be affected.”
Around one in four adults in England are now considered to be obese while recent figures show that 22 per cent of four to five year olds are obese and 34 per cent of 10 to 11 year olds are obese.
During the study, published in the journal Endocrinology, used moderately obese female mice that were fed a high fat and sugary diet before and during pregnancy.
The first generation of mice were found to have few ill effects when fed a normal diet, but the second generation were more prone to obesity related diseases.
Scientists now believe this occurs due to the tweaks that occur to a person’s DNA while they are in the womb.
Known as known as developmental programming or epigenetics, these are thought to help prepare babies for the environment they are about to born into.
However, there is a growing body of evidence that shows these can at times also be detrimental by altering a child’s risk to cancer, obesity and other diseases.
Dr Drake said scientists now needed to look at how disease risk may be passed down not just from parents to their children but also to their grandchildren.
This should help public health organisations offer advice on how parents can change their lifestyles to protect their children and grandchildren from greater health risks.
She added: “Future studies could look at these trends in humans but they would need to take into account genetics, environmental, social and cultural factors.”
Residents given the power to kill off new wind turbines in move British Tories claim will end controversial onshore developments
Communities are to be given a powerful ‘veto’ over wind farms in a move that Tories claim will mean the death of controversial new onshore developments.
Schemes will have to gain local residents’ consent before a planning application can even be made, effectively handing them the power to prevent turbines being erected.
Planning rules are also to be changed so that the drive for renewable energy can no longer be used as a reason for overriding environmental and other concerns.
Former energy minister John Hayes, a leading critic of onshore wind turbines who has been pushing for reform since moving to Downing Street as a senior adviser to David Cameron, told the Daily Mail: ‘No means no.
The Government has set a target of increasing the amount of power generated by onshore wind farms to 13 gigawatts by 2020
The Government has set a target of increasing the amount of power generated by onshore wind farms to 13 gigawatts by 2020
‘No longer will councils and communities be bullied into accepting developments because national energy policy trumps local opinion. Meeting our energy goals is no excuse for building wind turbines in the wrong places.’
Ministers are planning a major increase in benefits paid for by developers for communities that do give their consent– branded ‘bribes for blight’ by critics – including long-term electricity bill discounts of up to 20 per cent.
But following months of bitter argument over wind power between the Coalition parties, Tory sources said they expected the package of measures will mean few new developments are approved.
Eric Pickles will issue revised guidance for councils and planning inspectors
Eric Pickles will issue revised guidance for councils and planning inspectors
The Government has set a target of increasing the amount of power generated by onshore wind farms to 13 gigawatts (GW) by 2020. There are currently around 3,800 turbines, and at least 10,000 had been expected to be built.
But in an indication of a shift in Government policy, ministers announced last year that the subsidy for onshore wind power generation would be cut by 10 per cent.
Mr Hayes infuriated Lib Dems last year when he declared that turbines had been ‘peppered around the country’ with little or no regard for the views of communities, and insisted that England could meets its targets with those that have already been constructed and those with planning consent.
Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles will today issue revised guidance for councils and planning inspectors.
It will say that decisions will have to take into account the cumulative impact of wind turbines – meaning councils will be able to factor in the distance between proposed new developments and existing ones – and reflect the effect on landscape and amenities.
The Government is expected to promise an annual review of the costs of wind power, casting doubt over the level of future subsidies.
The Lib Dems, enthusiastic advocates of all forms of green energy, insist community benefits will help ensure new developments do go ahead.
Ministers plan to adopt a similar approach to the development of new nuclear power stations and ‘fracking’ rigs to extract underground reserves of shale gas.
Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary Ed Davey insisted: ‘It is important that onshore wind is developed in a way that is truly sustainable, economically, environmentally and socially, and this announcement will ensure that communities see the windfall from hosting developments near to them, not just the wind farm.
‘We remain committed to the deployment of appropriately sited onshore wind.
‘This is an important sector that is driving economic growth, supporting thousands of new jobs and providing a significant share of our electricity, and I’m determined that communities should share in these benefits.’
Tory Energy Minister Michael Fallon said: ‘We are putting local people at the heart of decision-making on onshore wind.
‘We are changing the balance to ensure that they are consulted earlier and have more say against poorly sited or inadequately justified turbines.’
Another lying British bitch
Feminists say that women never lie about sexual assaults. They sure do in Britain — and hurt a lot of innocent men
A Tory MP accused of trying to lure his lesbian housemaid into a threesome with his wife yesterday told of his relief after her ‘cynical’ case was thrown out.
Richard Drax said the allegations had been ‘extremely stressful’ for him, his wife Elsebet and his four children with his ex-wife, the sister of former Royal nanny Tiggy Legge-Bourke.
Anne Lyndoe-Tavistock’s case was dismissed after her former lover told an employment tribunal that she had falsely accused a previous employer of sexual assault and had been awarded £16,000.
The ‘manipulative’ serial litigant also received two other payouts after bringing claims against former bosses in the last 15 years.
In her latest claim, Miss Lyndoe-Tavistock, 53, alleged the MP for South Dorset and his wife groped her and tried to perform a sex act on her as they drank wine in the sitting room of their Elizabethan stately home.
She told the tribunal she felt suicidal after the alleged assault and claimed that a few weeks later she was told to leave the house and her £24,000-a-year job. She also claimed Mr Drax, 55, used to walk around the house naked in front of her.
The MP, a Harrow-educated former Coldstream Guards officer whose full name is Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, had always denied the claims and described himself to the hearing as a ‘courteous gentleman’.
Miss Lyndoe-Tavistock’s claims were dismissed after her former civil partner – who is currently divorcing her – told the tribunal she believed the housekeeper had ‘concocted’ the stories for financial gain and to ‘satisfy a grudge’.
Jo Lyndoe-Tavistock said her former partner’s attitude when she was in a dispute was one of ‘I have an issue with that person, how can I get them back?’ She told the hearing that before they had met her partner had brought a successful claim involving an alleged sexual assault against her former employer, the Royal Mail.
‘She admitted to me that she had been in a tussle of some sort with a colleague and that she had invented an allegation that he had touched her breast,’ she said. Miss Lyndoe-Tavistock received £15,960 after bringing the claim.
She received another payout from the Royal Mail after alleging she had hurt her shoulder after the company overfilled a bag. ‘In fact it was an injury she had had for many years which was unrelated to her work,’ her civil partner said.
She also received a £3,000 payout from a store where she was working after yet another dispute.
Her ex-partner added said she believed the case against the MP was another attempt to ‘extract money from an employer’.
‘She knows Mr Drax is a public figure and I imagine she thought he was in a strong position to secure a settlement from him as I know she has done from previous employers.
‘I believe she concocted the allegations in her claim to cause embarrassment to Mr and Mrs Drax and their family in the expectation that she would receive a financial settlement.’
A few weeks after the alleged assault, Miss Lyndoe-Tavistock said the MP told her she had an hour to leave, citing a series of fallings out she had had with other members of staff. She said he gave her £300 and a letter falsely claiming they had discussed disciplinary proceedings and that a severance deal would be drawn up.
The housekeeper’s former partner told the tribunal that when she spoke to her after she had been sacked by the MP, she boasted she had something ‘big’ on him.
The housekeeper had claimed sexual discrimination, unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal and for unpaid holiday pay. Mr Drax wiped his eyes as he sat holding his wife’s hand as chairman of the panel, Judge Roger Peters, rejected her ‘utterly incredible’ claims.
Outside, the MP said. ‘This finding vindicates our position throughout these proceedings that we acted lawfully and properly and that her serious allegations of sexual discrimination were untrue.
‘These allegations have been extremely stressful for my wife and I, and my children, and my family. We are all now relieved that we can put these matters behind us.’
A spokesman for the Forum of Private Business said: ‘It is wrong that one angry employee can humiliate her boss, even if there are no grounds.
‘We think the culture needs to change where somebody is to blame – and that is always the employer.’
Outside court, the housekeeper’s solicitor said: ‘We are sorry that she has not been able to prove her case at this tribunal and we will be considering an appeal.’
I’ll curb new red tape on small firms, says British Business Minister: Michael Fallon vows to ‘reform or bin’ any rules that would hit companies
Believe it when you see it
New Government regulations which would hurt small businesses will be ‘reformed or binned’, the Department for Business will announce today.
In a dramatic attempt to crackdown on red tape, Michael Fallon will ban the introduction of new regulation by any Government department which would hit small firms.
He is expected to say: ‘On my watch, new regulations will now only extend to small businesses if they are essential, justified and where disproportionate burdens are fully mitigated. And where regulation is not fit for purpose it will be reformed or binned.’
The crackdown will come into effect immediately, and will apply to small businesses employing up to 50 staff.
The vast majority of British businesses will benefit. Of the 4.8million businesses in this country, only 1.2million actually employ one or more people, according to official figures.
It comes after red tape has for years been regularly cited by small firms as the biggest problem that they face.
While entrepreneurs want to be focused on growing their business, millions complain their time is wasted on the constant mountain of red tape paperwork which needs to be filled in.
Small business lobby groups have regularly warned their members are ‘hammered’ by red tape which they insist is thwarting Britain’s chance of a full economic recovery.
Today Mr Fallon will say he has listened to their fury about red tape, and promise to stem the flow of time-consuming regulation which distracts them day in, day out.
He will say: ‘We all want faster growth. As Britain recovers, small businesses are leading the generation of ideas, the creation of new jobs and the shift towards a balanced economy. ‘We cannot afford to hold them back with more rules and regulations.’
Last night, business lobby groups welcomed the move, which will affect all new ideas with immediate effect and apply to all regulations coming into force after 31 March 2014.
John Allan, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: ‘The burden of regulation often falls heaviest on the smallest of firms.
‘This announcement should mean that business owners will be able to devote time to growing their business and creating jobs, rather than form-filling.’
Alexander Ehmann, head of regulatory policy at the Institute of Directors, said they are ‘much-needed powers to throw out rules which are unmanageable for the UK’s smallest businesses.’
Under the new system, all new regulations must be scrutinised by two committees, which have the power to veto them if they are deemed to be harmful to small businesses.
Alternatively, the committee can grant an exemption to small businesses, or change the rules to mitigate the impact on small firms.
For example, the rules around record-keeping for small firms – one of their biggest bugbears – might be simplified, but not for large firms.
The British Chambers of Commerce said it will ‘keep an eye’ on the new policy to ensure that it is actually making a difference to firms, rather than just becoming another failed attempt to curb the explosion of red tape.
It comes after the Prime Minister said yesterday he will accept all the recommendations made by his small business tsar Lord Young in his recent report.
They include scrapping the age restriction, currently 30, on people who can apply for a popular ‘start-up loan’ from the Government to allow entrepreneurs of all ages to apply.
John Bercow: migrants are better workers
Bercow is a piece of work but he is right about the large numbers of lazy Brits. Their welfare State has created a culture of idleness. “Benefits” are more profitable than work in many cases. Australians know Brits well and a common comment about Brits from Australians is that “they wouldn’t work in an iron lung” (meaning that nothing can move them)
Eastern European immigrants to Britain show more “aptitude and commitment” to work than British people, the Commons Speaker has said. The arrival of thousands of workers from eastern Europe has had “great advantages” for Britain, John Bercow said.
In remarks that have raised questions about his political neutrality, the Speaker also attacked British critics of recent trends in immigration for their “bellicose and strident tone”.
As Speaker, Mr Bercow is expected to stay out of active political debates. Ministers and MPs are currently debating how Britain should prepare for next year’s lifting of European immigration restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians.
In remarks on a visit to Romania last week, Mr Bercow appeared to give his support for policies that have allowed eastern Europeans to travel to Britain and work.
Since 2004, about one million eastern Europeans have come to Britain under European Union freedom of movement rules.
From next year, Romanians and Bulgarians will have the same right.
Some MPs argue that the arrival of eastern Europeans can bring social and economic problems in parts of Britain.
Ministers have promised changes in public service rules to make it harder for newcomers to use services such as the NHS.
During a visit to Bucharest, Mr Bercow spoke about the “important wave of immigrants” that have come to Britain in recent years, and praised their work ethic.
“I believe things should be controlled and monitored when it comes to migration, any state that wants to protect its own people should do this, but there are also great advantages,” he said.
“I want to underline the fact that there has been an important wave of immigrants that came to Great Britain from new member states and in many cases they came with aptitudes and a commitment, an involvement we haven’t always seen in our labour force.”
Mr Bercow made the remarks during an official visit to the Romanian parliament last week. He was given a full ceremonial welcome, addressing the parliament and meeting senior politicians.
He also gave a press conference where he criticised the British media for raising doubts about immigration, accusing some journalists of “negative and discriminatory” reporting on the issue.
British media coverage of immigration is not reflective of British opinion on the issue, Mr Bercow told reporters in Bucharest. He added: “A free media is a vital part of a democracy. But the media is not the Government and it is not Parliament,” he said. “I am here as a friend of Romania and someone who sees the benefits of immigration.”
Mr Bercow’s decision to speak about the benefits of immigration has been questioned.
Nigel Farage, the UK Independence Party leader who challenged Mr Bercow at the last election, said the Speaker had failed to fulfil his duty to remain above politics.
He said: “It is outrageous that Mr Bercow is happy to overthrow the wisdom of ages and think it acceptable to comment on matters that are both highly political and deeply contentious. He is a disgrace to the office of Speaker.
“There are very good practical and constitutional reasons why the Speaker is neutral, reasons that he obviously believes are beneath his own august self image.”
Rob Wilson, a Conservative MP who has questioned Mr Bercow’s fairness in chairing parliamentary debates, said his comments raised concerns.
Mr Wilson said: “Immigration is an incredibly important and sensitive matter that generates very strong opinions. The Speaker needs not only to be neutral in his handling of debates on the issue, but he needs to be seen to be neutral.
“It would be a dangerous precedent if a Speaker were to start airing their views too freely on a subject like this.”
As Speaker, Mr Bercow determines which MPs can speak in Commons debates, and some members are wary of criticising him publicly.
Another MP said Mr Bercow was unwise to comment on the immigration debate in the way that he did. “He should stay out of things like this,” the MP said.
Some MPs defended Mr Bercow’s decision to discuss immigration.
Philip Hollobone, a Conservative MP who has criticised liberal immigration rules, said he did not object to Mr Bercow’s actions.
He said: “As Speaker of the House of Commons, it is absolutely right that if he is asked a question, he is able to answer it freely and honestly.”
A Commons spokesman confirmed Mr Bercow’s remarks about immigration during his visit to Romania last week.
He said: “Mr Speaker was on an official visit at the invitation of the Romanian parliament, supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where he delivered a speech about the role and importance of parliaments in the democratic system. Mr Speaker was responding to a question about British media coverage in relation to future EU migration.
How soaring immigration has piled on the pressure for British public services
Look closely at the numbers of people using hospital Accident and Emergency wards and you will see a worrying trend.
Between 1987 and 2003, attendances at A&E remained steady, with around 14 million people each year. Then, in 2004, the numbers jumped by 18 per cent to 16.5 million.
By last year, the figure was 21.7 million — a 50 per cent increase in ten years.
By contrast, European countries such as Sweden have registered a barely negligible rise in attendances over the same period.
Quite rightly, critics point to how changes to GP working hours have piled strain on A&E departments, deluged by patients who can’t see their family doctor at night or at weekends.
But there are other reasons that may explain the rise in demand. Crucially, there are concerns that the extra demands placed upon A&E also stem from a rise in immigration.
From 2001 to 2011, our population rose from 52.4 million to 56.1 million — an increase of 7 per cent and the largest rise in the population since the census began in 1801.
It cannot be a coincidence that 2004 — the year in which A&E attendance jumped so noticeably — was the year that Labour changed GPs’ contracts to let them opt out of out-of-hours care, and also the year that East European countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic acceded to the EU, allowing their people free migration to the UK.
We simply cannot go on discounting the effect that such immigration has had upon our healthcare services.
In 2011, the NHS spent £23 million on translators and interpreters — a rise of 17 per cent since 2007.
The Nuffield Trust, a healthcare research body, has also identified that the number of migrants registering with GPs rose from 550,000 a year in 2003/4 to 625,000 a year by 2005/6.
But a bigger problem is almost certainly with migrants who do not register with a GP. Arriving in this country with no clear understanding of how the NHS works, and not knowing which part of the health service to turn to when they are ill, they may go straight to A&E rather than to a GP.
Dr John Heyworth, president of the College of Emergency Medicine, has spoken of ‘increases in the number of immigrants who tend to visit A&E routinely and not register with family doctors’.
Other organisations report the same trend. A UK Border Agency study into the impact of migration quoted one survey of 700 migrants which found only half had registered with a GP.
As one document prepared by the Sandwell Health Alliance (a consortium of GPs in the West Midlands) in August 2011 admitted, the ‘immigrant population have a lack of understanding of how the health service works, and so use A&E as the norm’.
A further contributing factor may be that since migrants tend to settle in more deprived areas, they may not have rapid access to general practitioners.
The Health Services Journal found in 2011 that in the poorer areas of the country, 31 per cent of patients could not access a GP within two days, compared to 19 per cent in the wealthiest areas.
Unable to seek the advice of a local family doctor, patients in the poorest 10 per cent of areas were 53 per cent more likely to attend A&E in a given year than the wealthiest 10 per cent.
The NHS now receives more funding than ever before: £104 billion, rising to £112 billion by 2015. Yet the system, as A&E admissions prove, is under ever greater strain.
The demand for NHS services continues to rise, our population is rapidly ageing and obesity and other chronic conditions put ever greater strain on the Health Service. It has been estimated that by 2050 the costs of the NHS could reach £250 billion.
Unless we take action about how we want to ensure that healthcare is provided free, regardless of the ability to pay, then in future decades the very future of the NHS could be under threat.
Of course, the NHS has never been ‘free’: it is paid for by taxpayers. And it is the contributory system that we need to restore if people are going to have trust in their public services.
The fact is we cannot sustain a health service that will treat anyone who arrives in the country without a record of contributing or paying into the service.
For too long, so-called ‘health tourists’ who are not eligible for free NHS care have managed to get treatment but then don’t pay the cost. Over the past five years, health tourists are estimated to have cost the country more than £40 million.
And this is likely to have been only the tip of the iceberg, given that several health trusts did not collect data or records of foreign nationals who should have been charged.
Medical professionals who have witnessed this scandalous abuse of the NHS are finally speaking out.
The distinguished Professor J Meirion Thomas, of the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, said the founder of the NHS, Aneurin Bevan, ‘would be outraged by the abuse of his flagship social reform on such a scale’.
He added: ‘The time has come to protect the NHS. British taxpayers should not be funding an International Health Service.’
He estimated that the costs to the NHS from ‘health tourism’ could in fact run to billions of pounds a year.
Of course, no one would deny the benefits to this country of migrants who work tirelessly to make a better life for themselves, including those workers who devote themselves to the NHS itself as doctors, nurses, porters and orderlies.
But we should look at introducing a ‘Green Card’ system similar to the United States, which would allow migrants permission to work but not grant them access to public services until they had paid a minimum of, say, five or ten years in tax contributions.
Until that time, migrants entering the country should be required to take out medical insurance before they are granted a visa.
I realise this will require a substantial renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU over how benefits and welfare are paid. But if we are to save the NHS, then we must act to ensure that everyone who is treated by its doctors and nurses puts into the system before they take something out.