From delivering babies to performing surgery, migrant health workers are at the heart of our NHS. Over 36% of doctors in the UK trained abroad, as did 21% of the nursing and midwifery workforce, and countless other support staff. The UK health service could not function without migrants.
Figures do not capture at what level, or where migrant health workers are working (NHS or private), but based on the average costs to of training health workers in the UK, we estimate migrant doctors, nurses and midwives save the UK somewhere between £35 and £65.5 billion.(i) That is before we count auxiliary nurses, and all migrants working in a range of other roles in healthcare.
Yet rather than recognise the contribution of migrant health workers, the government is increasingly using migrants as a scapegoat for the problems of the NHS. Migrants are not the cause of the NHS crisis. That is chronic underfunding, and inadequate staffing. Migrants therefore, are clearly part of the solution. Yet Ministers are choosing to use migrants as a scapegoat to distract from their own failings.
The current focus on extending and enforcing NHS charges for certain groups of migrants, aims to recoup only £500 million of the £22bilion of savings that NHS England is trying to find. Clearly it won’t solve the funding crisis, but it has done a good job of occupying the headlines and diverting attention from the real issues.
The debate about migrants using the NHS was addressed by Bevan himself who said the discussion has “a nasty taste. Instead of rejoicing at the opportunity to practice a civilized principle, Conservatives have tried to exploit the most disreputable emotions in this among many other attempts to discredit socialized medicine.”
This is not just a theoretical debate, it has real life consequences. And they have proved fatal. 44 year old Dalton Messam died in East Ham, too afraid to seek medical treatment in case he was deported because of a lack of papers. There are likely many others like him who have not reached the headlines. Denying people care based on their legal status does not improve the NHS. It is a threat to its core principles, normalising charging for some groups, which may well later be extended to others.
Health Poverty Action and the People’s Health Movement UK are pleased to join with people across the UK who are saying no to the scapegoating of migrants and rejecting the politics of hate and division. We are supporting One day Without us the National Day of Action to celebrate the contribution of migrants to the UK and in particular to say a huge thank you to migrant health workers for their contribution to the NHS.
i. The range is because data does not show at which level doctors are working. 35 billion is the figure if all migrant doctors are working as junior doctors, and 65.5 billion if they are working as consultants. The reality will be somewhere in between.