There seems to be popular misconception, fuelled by ignorance and a leftist stream of pity for those of us who come to this country legally, about our access to the NHS and the excellent healthcare this nation provides. This in turn has caused reasonable people to question our use of the NHS and I am writing to set the record straight. I want to begin by addressing the dubious leftist agenda of painting us legal immigrants as victims waiting for social benefits because we are incapable of working our way up in British society. Many of us who come to this country are students, doctors, nurses, lawyers, engineers and artists, looking to carve a niche for ourselves in the UK while contributing with our skills and expertise to further develop and add value to our generous host nation. Many of us who are in this country didn’t come here to ride off the generosity of the NHS or taxpayer.
Even if there are some who attempt to do so, let me be clear that the Tory government has been very effective in curbing many of them so far with the introduction of the Immigration Health Surcharge in April 2015. This essentially means that when one applies for a long-term visa for more than 6 months for non-tourist purposes and is “ordinarily resident” in the United Kingdom, they must pay a surcharge before applying for the visa – the amount varying between £300 to £600 for every year they intend to stay depending on the purpose of travel. This essentially led to roughly £250 million being collected in the 2018-2019 fiscal year alone. Some still whine and rave that this is just not enough, however many of those resident legally also work, buying goods and services, thereby contributing taxes equally if not more than some nationals. Misconceptions promoted by the pity parties or semi-informed media outlets contribute to outright racism some of us then have to face in the public sphere.
Let me highlight one incident that deeply affected me when I first arrived in this country as a foreign student, which makes this issue personal for me. Having caught a bad bacterial throat infection, I went to the doctor and was new to the NHS system. He prescribed medication and I went back to the receptionist and asked for the bill – she smiled and told me I was covered and after exchanging pleasantries, I proceeded to the pharmacy. After handing the pharmacist my prescription, I asked how much the medicine would cost, not knowing the NHS covered me here too. To my horror, she snubbed me and said I should be grateful to the taxpayer because they’re paying for me to be treated (if I were fair skinned enough, you’d have seen my ears compete with a tomato.) I felt disgraced and demeaned in front of all the other people present. I didn’t say anything, gathered my package and walked out quietly as I was alone, feverish, new to this country and insulted.
I really wish those who think of immigrants as a charitable cause will consider all of us, say for example students, who come in legally, pay for the NHS, then pay £25,000 a year in fees and work hard to earn enough for living expenses. We recognise two things: firstly, as noble as the intention of the left seems – to feel sorry for us – it is political and aimed at scoring brownie points with compassionate younger voters, who are most in contact socially with non-nationals. Secondly, a lot of conservatives who understand socialism that is an impractical utopian paradise and have a basic grasp of economics begin to feel like their generosity and hospitality is being taken advantage of, with no real returns. This in turn causes them to unreasonably tar all forms of immigration with the same brush and even show their frustration on the wrong people who are just as eligible to use a service they have paid for and support financially.
Finally, it would be inadequate of me if I didn’t unequivocally condemn all forms of illegal medical tourism that leave the NHS with a massive bill and no one to foot it. As healthcare in the UK is free for all at the point of delivery, it is vital that any cracks in the system, especially when tourists without proper insurance documents and unverified addresses can come in and take undue advantage, must be plugged. Again, one must never assume and be very mindful of not unfairly categorising all tourists and immigrants, lest we bring back memories of racism and xenophobia inadvertently.
In closing, I am deeply grateful to all the good hospitable folk of Great Britain and Northern Ireland who have made my time as a student in the UK enjoyable thus far. People who have shown mutual respect and had the courtesy to find out my story and the reason why I decided to leave home and come to this nation. There are plenty of good folk around and it is my obligation to inform them that their hospitality is not being trampled on and we would like to do our part and together make the NHS stronger and more capable especially in times of crisis.