“The 300 ‘maternity tourists’” announced the Sunday Telegraph today, in an effort to conflate use of the NHS by those not entitled to free healthcare, and potential immigration from Romania and Bulgaria. That two rather different cases have been lumped together will come as no surprise when readers see the name on the by-line, that being Andrew “transcription error” Gilligan.
On top of that is the all-too-common use of quotation marks because the phrase being pitched cannot be stood up. So where does Gilligan get it? “A government report found that immigration officials at one airport stopped more than 300 such mothers-to-be over two years”. And they were all headed for an NHS hospital to get treatment for free? But then, that is what cannot be stood up.
But off he goes anyway: “The problem of ‘maternity tourism’ has become so acute that staff at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust, in London, refer to the flow of West African women flying in to give birth as the ‘Lagos Shuttle’”. Really? Who calls it that? Er, the Telegraph does, egged on by one J Meirion Thomas, who will tell anyone prepared to listen about health tourism.
Anyhow, what sums of money are involved? “The Government says health tourism costs the NHS as much as £80 million a year — enough to pay for about 2,000 nurses ... However, estimates seen by The Telegraph suggest the true figure may be far higher”. When Andrew Gilligan mentions “estimates” that “suggest” something, without the source being cited, that’s an avoid.
So we’re left with “as much as £80 million a year”, and for the sake of argument, let’s take £80 million as the actual figure. How does this compare, say, to the total NHS budget? Well, the 2013/4 figure for the latter is £95.6 billion, which makes the shock horror health tourism figure of £80 million less than one-tenth of one per cent of it. Whoever is coming here for NHS treatment isn’t exactly breaking the bank.
It gets worse: the reports that inform Gilligan’s article appear to consist of one study from 2010 – so hardly up to date – and another which has canvassed views of staff, rather than factual information. To this he adds “Later this week, restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians working in Britain will be lifted, amid concerns that tens of thousands could arrive and be entitled to benefits”.
But residents of other EU member states are entitled to access the NHS under reciprocal arrangements with those states. So Gilligan is adding a rank non sequitur to outdated and unpublished information, then selectively quoting from it, along with re-hashing a previous piece from his own paper. It is no doubt what his editor demanded, but at the expense of any credibility he had left.
Andrew Gilligan is once again a disgrace to his profession. No change there, then.