Denying NHS care to overseas visitors is unethical

August 05, 2004

Current UK regulations for treatment of overseas visitors or people of uncertain residential status are unethical, argue researchers in this week's BMJ.

These regulations deny free treatment for HIV to illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers. But the authors propose that treatment should be provided when it will prevent serious harm without undue cost.

They describe a case of a pregnant woman from Africa who is found to be HIV positive yet is denied treatment to prevent transmission of HIV to her unborn child. "The moral obligation to prevent transmission of HIV to the unborn child is sufficient grounds to treat", say the authors.

If use of NHS resources to treat people of uncertain residential status would compromise the care of UK residents, this would be a reason to restrict care, but current immigration patterns and controls do not suggest that there would be a huge burden on the health system, they write.

Concerns about creating incentives to visit or illegally immigrate for health care should be tackled by tighter policing of immigration, they add. "Immigration authorities, not doctors, should be enforcing the immigration policy."

Rather than tightening access to NHS services, we should relax the current unethical restrictions, and offer medical care to all those within our borders who require treatment before leaving the United Kingdom, they conclude.
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BMJ

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