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HomeNewsAndrew Tettenborn: Doctors conspire to fleece the taxpayer

Andrew Tettenborn: Doctors conspire to fleece the taxpayer


If you are paid by the taxpayer and you find out that someone is out to bilk the State, what do you do? Easy: help them do it, take steps to stop the government finding out, and then claim Brownie points as a man or woman of principle.

A bad joke? I’m afraid not – at least for some right-on Guardian-reading medical professionals. Earlier this year the news broke that NHS Digital, a record-keeping arm of the NHS, had passed on to the Home Office the names and addresses of suspected illegal immigrants who had registered to receive NHS services from GPs’ surgeries and other NHS organisations. Not, be it noted, any clinical information: just the names and addresses of those who for the most part had registered to receive free treatment to which they had not the slightest entitlement. Nor yet was there any attempt to deprive these people of genuine emergency treatment; under the NHS everyone, however undeserving, gets that anyway with no questions asked.

The result? Outrage. Liberty, Doctors of the World and the National Aids Trust screamed that confidentiality was being trodden under foot: that it was quite wrong to use any NHS information in connection with immigration: and it was outrageous to do this without consulting the doctors first. Indeed, they went further. They published a so-called “toolkit” and distributed it to UK doctors to enable them to prevent such information reaching the Home Office. This charming document suggested (for example) that patients should be advised to refuse to give any address, or give their address as that of the surgery.

By all accounts it was highly successful. Some doctors even went further: one north-east London GP (whom I will not name) solemnly put up posters telling her patients they could register with her practice (one imagines for the most part entirely untruthfully) as of “no fixed abode”.

One point is obvious, if painful. In so far as those responsible for these actions knew that many of the registrants they were encouraging were not in fact entitled to free treatment on the NHS, what they did comes perilously close to aiding and abetting fraud.

Of course, doctors and others in this position will no doubt happily justify this attempt to turn the National Health Service into an international health service on the basis of high-minded principle. But keep in mind one thing. None of this posturing is costing them personally a penny piece: they get paid their very substantial salaries by the public and retain their ineffably smug lifestyle whatever actions of this sort they engage in. Indeed, they actually profit by signing up as many patients as they can – remember that a substantial proportion of many GPs’ earnings consist in capitation fees paid to them per patient registered to their practice.

In sum, as is the way with fashionable Left-liberals, they are only doing what comes naturally to them: taking the credit for being virtuous and principled, while at the same time passing the cost on to somebody else, in this case the hard-pressed UK taxpayer. As the expression goes, that’s nice work if you can get it.

(Image: Garry Knight)

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Andrew Tettenborn
Andrew Tettenborn
Andrew Tettenborn is a professor of commercial law at a well-known UK university, who also teaches in Europe and elsewhere. In the 2001 General Election he stood as Ukip’s candidate in Bath.

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