HIV, Immigration and the Real Cost of Health Tourism

In the recent leader debates, UKIP leader Nigel Farage highlighted that over 60% of the 7,000 HIV sufferers in this country are foreign nationals, using this as an example of how the open-door immigration has led to a strained NHS. Condemnation amongst the other party leaders was universal, however polls have since revealed over half of the public agreed with Farage’s comments. So, is there any weight to his claims?

It’s first worth noting that the actual cost of health tourism is estimated at £70-100million per year, with the £2billion figure thrown around on the debates a misrepresentation. The £2billion figure accounts largely for groups such as asylum seekers, migrant workers and international students – it should be noted that the last two groups positively contribute to our economy.

The cost of treating the 4,000+ HIV positive foreign nationals (note: not health tourists) Farage took a shot at would be £10.5million per annum on his (exaggerated) estimate of treatment at £25,000 a year. Most estimates for the cost of treatment per year fall within £15,000-20,000, which puts the figure at more like £7.5million per annum treating these patients. In the grand scheme of the £110billion budget the NHS has, nothing more than a drop in an ocean.

Most importantly of all, treating HIV reduces its transmission, thus saving spending more money treating more sufferers. Or that’s what a little organisation known as the Department of Health would argue, anyway – I’m sure Farage would accuse them of failing to share his bigotry on the grounds of “political correctness.”

So, on moral and practical grounds, treating these people is certainly not a case of “wasted” money. Health tourism accounts for (at most) 0.1% of total NHS spending, and spending on foreign nationals afflicted with HIV accounts for a minuscule 0.01% of total NHS spending. Choosing a disease that is still stigmatised, especially amongst the homophobic elements amongst UKIP’s core audience, should also be condemned – this is not the first time Farage has picked on HIV sufferers to illustrate a point, and it begs the question of why he doesn’t pick on a group such as cancer victims. Regardless, Farage’s comments are nothing more than UKIP shoehorning immigration and the EU into yet another debate when there are much more important issues to be tackled.

Conor Dunwoody

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