England’s NHS has become one of the world’s most popular destinations for “health tourists” in just over a decade.
Labour’s tripling of the health budget, enforcement of targets and enthusiasm for the Private Finance Initiative meant that patients were treated faster than before and often in brand-new hospitals.
Meanwhile the booming global economy and the former Government’s enthusiasm for mass immigration meant that many more people around the world became aware of the benefits of England’s state-run health service.
As the new Department of Health report concedes: “The widespread availability of high-quality healthcare that is free at the point of access creates a risk that some visitors deliberately access healthcare without paying, known as ‘health tourism’.”
The phrase “health tourism” in relation to the NHS – it was already a recognised phenomenon in Communist Cuba – was first used publicly in August 2000.
Figures suggested that one in five beds in a London psychiatric hospital was occupied by a foreigner, as people were able to step off a plane and take a taxi straight to a hospital without any mechanism to ensure they paid for their treatment afterwards.