Theresa May has defended plans to make patients show passports to determine if they qualify for NHS treatment, as Jeremy Corbyn accused the government of using so-called health tourism to distract from the health service’s funding crisis.
The prime minister said the government was determined to tackle concerns about migrants using the health service. “For many years there has been a concern about health tourism, people turning up in the UK and accessing health services and not paying for them,” she told the Commons.
“We have to deal with health tourism and those who should be paying for the use of our health service.”
During a prime minister’s questions in which the Labour leader focused exclusively on funding for health and social care, Corbyn said suggestions that patients show passports before receiving treatment were “divisive and impractical”.
Corbyn said the cost of health tourism was “over 100 times less than the £22bn of cuts the NHS is facing”. The National Audit Office estimates that the uncollected fees are worth £200m a year, about 1% of the current NHS debt.
“All of us who visit A&E know the stress they are under,” Corbyn said. “Instead of looking for excuses and scapegoats, shouldn’t the prime minister be ensuring health and social care is properly secure and properly funded?”
The Labour leader said the impact on elderly people and those without passports – estimated at 9.5 million Britons – had not been considered. “Rather than distracting people with divisive and impractical policies, could the prime minister provide the NHS and social care with the money that it needs for people who need the support?” he said.
Pointing to the chancellor’s autumn statement immediately following PMQs, May it was clear that the country could “only afford to pay for the NHS and social care if we have a strong economy creating wealth, and that’s precisely what he will hear from the chancellor of the exchequer”.
During the exchange, Corbyn said he had been contacted by a woman whose 89-year-old mother had suffered two falls and been admitted to hospital because she could not receive adequate care at home or in a nursing home.
May said the government was already investing billions in the better care fund and social care precept, but said Labour had failed to get a grip on social care during 13 years in government despite numerous commissions and green papers.
Corbyn, a backbencher during the Blair and Brown governments, said Labour’s time in power saw health spending treble. “Levels of satisfaction with the national health service were at their highest ever in 2010,” he said.
“The government’s choice was to cut social care by £4.6bn in the last parliament and found the space to cut billions in corporate taxation bills.”
This article was written by Jessica Elgot Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 23rd November 2016 13.09 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010