New Internationalist

My brush with the ‘health tourism’ media mafia

Doctor's hands with stethoscope
Migrants will have to wait for up to a year before being able to seek hospital treatment Alex E. Proimos, under a CC License

Lock up your medicines, the health tourists are coming! In a typically knee-jerk reaction to the Eastleigh by-election in the South East of England, the coalition government is – if you believe the media reports – considering a ‘profound shake-up’ of access to healthcare whereby migrants will have to wait for up to a year before being able to seek hospital treatment.

I was asked to appear on LBC Radio to discuss these developments in a debate hosted by shock jock Nick Ferrari, who is billed as ‘the man all politicians fear’. My research told me that Ferrari’s career highlights range from being the launch editor of Sky News to bringing to our screens topless darts and weather forecasts featuring a dwarf on a trampoline. More seriously, he’d also been reprimanded by the broadcasting standards commission for encouraging racism against asylum seekers.

My opponent would be a Dr Robert Lefever, a retired GP and regular Daily Mail contributor, who’d written articles with headlines such as: ‘If we don’t halt health tourism, our whole economy will bleed to death.’

This would be interesting.

Dr Lefever was actually mild mannered but typically vague about the ubiquity of so-called health tourism. When asked if it was possible to put a figure on how much it costs the British economy, he came back with: ‘I don’t think it is really, but many millions.’

Despite his hazy and subjective ramblings, Lefever was never interrupted and was referred to respectfully as ‘doctor’ throughout.

Then it was my turn. The air turned cooler as Ferrari’s sights honed in.

To be fair, I was able to get across my main point that health tourism being rampant in Britain is a myth. I was allowed to say less than two per cent of the service users at the London clinic we run to help vulnerable migrants had left their country because of health reasons and that almost half had no knowledge of the NHS or their right to healthcare. The real reasons people leave their country, of course, are to find work, to study, to flee persecution, among other reasons, not usually for free healthcare.

Then Ferrari threw in this curveball: ‘But if an elderly person, who’s paid tax his or her entire life, is not getting NHS care because someone who’s been here for half an hour is – that’s not fair is it?’

I wanted to say that this was a ridiculous straw-man scenario but as I began talking, Ferrari cut in: ‘But that’s not fair is it?’ His bluntness surprised me but I ploughed through and tried to make a point about the NHS constitution making it clear that healthcare should be available to all, regardless of status or ability to pay and…

‘But we can’t afford it, we CANNOT afford it,’ yells Ferrari.

This was not going quite as hoped.

I soldiered on, saying that early detection of illness among migrants actually saves money in the long run as it often precludes the need for much more expensive hospital treatment down the line. I mentioned that the idea that Britain is somehow unique in offering healthcare access to undocumented migrants is untrue as many other European countries offer similar access and…

‘You’re talking about migrants again, you’re obviously not listening,’ said Ferrari.

I was invited on to the show as the spokesperson for a charity that helps vulnerable migrants and now I was being told not to talk about vulnerable migrants. I made one last plea for reason about the scale of so-called ‘health tourism’ being nowhere near the worrying levels suggested by the likes of Dr Lefever, to which Ferrari replied that he has absolutely no doubt that health tourism exists and that his audience would prove it for him.

‘For those out there who have visited hospitals, fortunately I don’t too much – I don’t know about Mr Harvey – why don’t YOU tell ME the truth about health tourism,’ he said, cutting me off.

I didn’t feel the need tune back in to hear the various truths of the people who visit hospitals.

I was instead left to contemplate what had just happened and why.

Nick Harvey is a spokesperson for Doctors of the World, UK.

Comments on My brush with the ‘health tourism’ media mafia

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  1. #1 serendipity 05 Mar 13

    it's rare that people talk about this kind of experience although I think it is extremely common, particularly on LBC and particularly with Ferrari

    he's like 'the voice of london' in V for Vendetta

    I wish people would ridicule his outrageous behavior more live on air but often, they have the thought in the back of their mind that they may not get asked back on any radio shows and if they have important points of view that need to be aired, they are reluctant to threaten the chance for a platform

    Ferrari is like a person on twitter who thinks their veracity and intelligence is directly linked to the amount of followers they have

    which would make Beyonce bloody Einstein crossed with Gandhi

    why aren't there any radio presenters on prime time like that geezer but who speak the way NI does on prime time shows like Ferrari's? it's just peurile tosh all the time, Clarkson on steroids rubbish, like sticking your head in a vat of stale beer and fag ends.

    love the article mate!

    PS This current issue of NI is astonishing, just took it to the bath with me and it's now 3am and I am withered to a soggy walnut. But WHAT A READ!! tosh all the time instead.

  2. #2 serendipity 06 Mar 13

    PPS Was so late and I was so shriveled, I didn't mean to have ’tosh all the time instead’ at the very end of what I wrote.

    Just re-read Wolfgang Sachs article in this issue, it's truly brilliant. Can't understand why more people don't know about the great work you guys are doing. Just so way ahead of anything else.

  3. #4 Sudhiranjan Dey 20 Apr 13

    India has emerged as a major international hub of medical tourism care. India is surely world’s most economical and finest medical tourism care destination. US, Canada, UK, Middle East and African countries are already very familiar with highly skilled Indian doctors and nurses and many of these doctors had returned to India to strengthen India’s medical travel tourism wave. India has 11 JCI accredited hospitals.

    Most estimates show treatment costs in India start at around a tenth of the price of comparable treatment in USA or UK. As example, a bone marrow transplant that costs about US$ 200,000 in USA or UK costs only US$ 25,000 in India. A heart bypass surgery costs US$ 25-35,000 in USA or UK costs only US$ 6,000 in India. A Knee Joint Replacement in India costs about US$ 5,000 while in the USA or UK it would cost between US$ 15,000 to 25,000. is an web portal dedicated to reach out to the medical attention seekers across the globe in order to guide them with honest and best possible advises and to get them connected with India’s finest health care service providers.

    The medical tourism seekers in India must get in touch with the hospitals directly and should avoid the agents. Guests are also welcome to contact for non-bias guidance.

  4. #6 NovaC3 16 Jul 13

    I have not encountered a single migrant person here in the UK who is here for the sole reason of seeking health care, let alone seeking any kind of surgery – cosmetic surgery or dental surgery. I think everyone knows that healthcare in the UK is expensive, and it is known more and more that British people are seeking health care overseas, whether it is in nearby European countries where it is relatively cheaper or in Asia, where it is cheaper by all means. Migrants in the UK seek healthcare (and sometimes pay the expensive price for it) not because it is their primary objective, but it is because they need to. They came to the UK for work or seek a better livelihood but not for health care reasons.

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About the author

Nick Harvey a New Internationalist contributor

Nick Harvey spent 2007 and 2008 hitch-hiking from Europe to Asia, writing along the way, and becoming a leading voice on LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) issues in India. Since then he’s published dozens of articles – mainly for New Internationalist  – on both well-known and obscure international human rights issues from the plight of Tuaregs in Mali to the fight for democracy in Swaziland. As well as freelancing as a journalist, he’s currently the communications lead for the health charity Doctors of the World (Médecins du Monde) UK.

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