Opinion

By Lucette Davies

The issue of immigration rears its ugly head time and time again when we speak to members of the public. Any discussion about the impact that foreigners have on the NHS will usually provoke strong reactions that make any attempt at a rational argument impossible. And that includes my own reaction as I can feel my blood boiling at any sign of racism. And what I hear so often is nothing more than blatant racism.

But when I reflect on these conversations in the comfort of my own home I realise that the people I have been speaking to are far more likely to be ill-informed than racist. So this column will be an attempt to present the reality of the impact immigration has on the NHS.

Our NHS has always relied on immigrant workers. In the last year, 34% of doctors joining the NHS came from overseas. The number of nurses in the NHS who come from the UK is now falling. There is now a staggering number of unfilled vacancies in the NHS now and NHS leaders have warned our Government that this staffing crisis poses a real risk to the entire NHS. Cutting immigration will only make it worse. Offering a paltry 2% pay increase when inflation is in double figures is likely to lead to more clinicians taking the decision to leave their professions or go overseas. You could be forgiven for thinking that Government is aiming to exacerbate the staffing crisis.

But many of those who tell me they blame the impact of immigration for the falling standards in the NHS are not just talking about migrant workers in healthcare. And it is not surprising that people have an exaggerated sense of how much Britain spends in supporting asylum seekers and other immigrants. For we have a Government who made plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda and a Home Secretary who describes immigration as an invasion. These are extreme measures that suggest Britain is suffering an enormous burden with immigration

However, the asylum system in the UK costs our Government just £2bn / year. That may sound a lot but compare it to the fact that during the pandemic NHS England paid over £2bn to private hospitals to treat NHS patients who then went on to deliver 43% less NHS funded care. Or the £38bn paid for a test and trace system that was found to do more harm than good. The UK generally loses £35bn / year in tax avoidance and evasion. Even when private healthcare provider Virgin healthcare received £2bn to deliver NHS care they paid no corporation tax at all.

Problems in the NHS are not caused by immigration. They are caused by successive Governments breaking those fundamental principles our NHS was founded on. Principles of humanity, and equality and the right to universal healthcare as a human right. We all paid into the system and we all had the same right to care. An NHS based on these principles provides us with the most efficient healthcare system possible, and is fundamental to maintaining prosperity in our society. We need to return to those principles and stop scapegoating immigrants and refugees for the problems our own Government is creating.