Since the early 60’s, Nigerians have always enjoyed the UK public services including housing, education and more importantly health care. However, the days of free services are over and there are clear writings on the wall that the British government is refusing to be the “Mr Nice Guy” nation or welfare state of the past.
The death of a Nigerian lady, Elizabeth Alabi, who was refused medical treatment by a London hospital clearly sent shock waves across the Nigerian community in the UK. However, the lessons from her death are yet to have tremendous impact on the numerous Nigerian visitors entering the UK yearly.
An online survey conducted by TIM revealed that 98% of the participants never thought of purchasing a travel or health insurance when travelling to the UK. This is a worrying discovery, particularly because many of the participants seem to be oblivious to the benefits associated with having insurance cover when on holiday abroad.
Prior to the Prime Minister John Major’s administration, Nigerians born in the UK automatically* acquire the Citizenship status (before 1984 if not a restricted visa), the British government reversed that policy but yet some few Nigerians were not abated by that, they continued to travel into the UK from Nigeria to deliver their babies leaving the taxpayer with the huge bill.
Thus, it is not surprising that the UK government remain unapologetic on its stands on matters of public services such as education and health service. Presently in the United Kingdom, you can not receive grant if you can not prove that you have resided in the UK for 3 years continuously without a break and this is tagged ‘Residential Status’ the same policy applies to the health service.
The Integrity Magazine decided to examine the reasoning behind the decision of the U.K government and simultaneously question the wisdom of this approach. The information received by this matter, clearly vindicate the approach on the U.K on this matter.
However, the integrity magazine asked the UK Department of Health to clarify the status of visitors to the United Kingdom with regards to health care and the spokesperson of the Department, David Burke explained that:
“Entitlement to access free National Health Service (NHS) hospital treatment is based on whether someone is ordinarily resident in this country, not on British nationality or the past or present payment of National Insurance contributions or UK taxes. Anyone who is not ordinarily resident is subject to the National Health Service (Charges to Overseas Visitors) Regulations 1989, as amended and is deemed an overseas visitor. These regulations place a responsibility on NHS hospitals to establish whether a person is ordinarily resident, or exempt from charges under one of a number of exemption categories listed in the regulations, or liable for charges. Some services are free of charge to everyone, regardless of where they ordinarily reside. These include treatment given in an accident and emergency department (A&E) or in a walk-in centre providing services similar to those in an A&E department, treatment for certain infectious diseases and compulsory psychiatric treatment….”
Although, the above is the new reality of the British society of today. Nevertheless, let it me know that Nigerians and visitors to the United Kingdom also play a critical role in keeping the UK health service workable. As at 30 September 2004, the UK National Health Service employed 2,694 doctors and medical staff with Nigeria as their country of qualification according to the NHS data and that would have doubled by 2006. According to the same data, the total number of ethnic minority working in the UK NHS as at September 2004 amount to 32,523 which represent 38.1% of the total workforce.
Even, in the hospital where Ms Elizabeth Alabi was initially denied treatment. Their record revealed that 394 over visitors were treated within 2005/6 and the hospital received over £300,000 on treatment cost.According to Colin Nash, Secretary to the Trust Board at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, 726 ethnic minority staff works for the trust as at 31 March 2006.
When No. 10 Downing Street was approached on this matter, the Prime Minister expressed his sympathy to the family of the Alabi and Rosie Winterton, the Minister of State for Health, also conveyed the same message but in an exclusive message to the integrity magazine said:
“Whilst the UK has reciprocal healthcare agreements with some other countries and territories, most countries have no healthcare agreements with the UK and treatment for visitors to or from those countries has to be paid for…”. Now, it is clear Nigeria does not have any healthcare agreements with the UK and Nigeria High Commission in the UK told the integrity magazine that their lawyer is reviewing the situation. Over 3 months into their initial response, there have been no information from that quarters.
Thus, the simple message to Nigerians coming to the United Kingdom is this, get your healthcare insurance before boarding the plane and spare yourself the headache…very soon, it might become a requirement for visitors into the United Kingdom to have evidence of health care insurance before getting a visa.