EXCLUSIVE BY TOBY PORTER
Medics and residents are demanding a hospital stops blocking treatment for overseas patients.
Doctors say they are being traumatised by children getting their care too late – and that it costs more to pay staff to carry out passport checks than the money it saves.
They are campaigning jointly with people who use St George’s Hospital in Tooting to demand its board; stop identity checks and stop paying for debt collectors to chase payments; allow immigrants to get free healthcare; carry out a probe into the expense of the checks and how much money it saves the NHS, issue a statement backing their campaigning.
Members of the medical colleges – the unions which represent hospital professionals – were last night expected to take their campaign to a meeting of the board of the trust which runs it.
More than 150 out of 450 doctors at St George’s have signed a letter to directors to say they are ill at ease with a policy which wastes scarce NHS cash – and stops people getting treatment when they need it.
Another 2,000 residents and hospital users have also signed a paper petition backing their demands.
The campaign is expected to ripple out to move to other South London hospitals in the coming weeks. But checking patients’ passports is Government policy and South London’s hospitals are telling the campaigners they will continue to implement the policy – even if they are ill at ease with having to implement it.
The medics say; children and adults with cancer are having their treatment delayed; some children are being denied life-saving care for conditions like heart disease, and pregnant women are coming in too late so some foetuses die in the womb for want of proper treatment. One St George’s doctor, who did not want to be named, said: “This is creating a hostile environment on our wards.
The system is also completely unworkable. It is very hard to identify who is illegal. “It causes distress to patients and staff. We do not think of ourselves as immigration officers, tradesmen or debt collectors.
We think it is wrong that staff should be treated like that. “There are already huge barriers to some communities getting treatment they are entitled to.
The Windrush scandal is a classic example – some people are long-term residents but do not have the documents to prove they have the right to remain.
“People who have been trafficked here – and need care – sometimes cannot prove what has happened to them. “Patients are also being wrongly billed for care, which creates huge and costly problems.
“Others think they have to bring their passports to get treatment. Some seek care come in to get care too late.
“All the colleges of consultants and midwives have come out against it. Universal healthcare works much better for everyone – and for hospital budgets.
“We would like hospital managers to tell the Government how unworkable it is and how distressing to staff as well as patients. “St George’s senior leadership has very good existing policies on inclusion and refugees so we hope they agree.”
A spokesman for St George’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: “We have a legal duty to recover costs from patients who are not entitled to free NHS treatment.
“Any patient not entitled to free NHS care must be charged for treatment they receive unless an exemption applies.
“All patients are entitled to free emergency care 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Any other care – including maternity services – is chargeable.
“Our staff are not asked to act as borders guards; nor do we ever refuse care or treatment to patients who need it.
“Patients are politely asked by our administrative staff to provide proof of ID, so enabling us to fulfil our legal duty in relation to charging.”
Doctors have been required to record whether patients had EU or overseas health eligibility papers since their contracts were changed in 2015.
The last survey of St George’s by the Department of Health found that staff checked the identity of 1,660 maternity patients and 18 patients were billed a total of £45,000.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Every hard-working taxpayer supports the NHS and it is only right that overseas visitors also make a contribution so everyone can get urgent care when they need it.
“All NHS trusts are legally obliged to check whether patients are eligible to free secondary care, but we have exemptions in place for the most vulnerable, including asylum seekers, and our guidance supports administrative staff in hospitals to make fair decisions on charging in the best interests of patients.
“Non-urgent treatment must be paid for in advance by chargeable patients, but treatment that clinicians consider is immediately necessary or urgent will never be withheld.”
He added that urgent treatment would always be provided, regardless of whether a patient can or will pay and A&E patients and those with infectious diseases are never charged.
Non-urgent needs, which can wait until the patient can leave the UK, require payment upfront.
Asking for two forms of identification “assists trusts in their statutory duty to identify patients not eligible for NHS-funded treatment.”