I admire Nigel Farage. I really do. He’s the best politician I’ve seen in years: a straight talker, absolutely unflappable no matter what’s flung at him, a good-to-honest all-round bloke who has “the guts to say what we’re all thinking”. That last quote is key. It’s everywhere, from comments on news sites to Twitter to Facebook. I’m sure it’s even made it off the internet but I can’t be bothered to go outside to check.
Lately, the gutsy Mr. Farage had this to say about HIV and health tourism in the UK:
“There are 7,000 diagnoses in this country every year for people who are HIV positive, but 60 per cent of them are not for British nationals.”
“You can come to Britain from anywhere in the world and get diagnosed with HIV and get the retroviral drugs that cost up to £25,000 per year per patient. I know there are some horrible things happening in many parts of the world, but what we need to is put the National Health Service there for British people and families who in many cases have paid into this system for decades.”
Despite however the Guardian and Independent try to spin it, these are welcome words for many of us, yet another example of Farage telling us the cold, hard facts that the other party leaders are just too weak, too afraid or too left-wing to admit. Once again, I can’t help but admire Farage’s way with words. Everything he says sounds like simple common sense backed up by an unfortunate but hard reality.
I’m not going to sit here and try to convince you that he’s a racist, convince you that the best thing for public health is to keep offering retroviral drugs to foreigners free of charge, nor am I going to throw endless barrels of statistics at you to convince you he’s wrong. Instead, I want to examine his straight talk and give it a gentle poke. I won’t twist or turn his words against him. How could I? After all, the fact of the matter is clear: sixty percent of positive HIV diagnoses are not for British nationals. If this isn’t damning evidence of health tourism in the UK then what on earth is?
But isn’t there something odd about that phrase: ‘not for British Nationals’. Not ‘tourists’ or ‘visitors’, but ‘not British Nationals’. And this is where Nigel makes a small slip: non-British Nationals includes migrant workers, students and other residents as well. In fact, it includes anyone who isn’t a British citizen, regardless of whether their income taxes or tuition (often three times the price of that for a British student) go towards paying for services in the country they live in. With almost 12 million foreign residents in the UK, that’s a hell of a lot of people, paying or not, to ignore.
But I’m sure we can forgive ‘straight-talking’ Nigel for this mistake. Despite a slightly misleading statistic, he’s still right about health tourism isn’t he? What about all those tourists popping over for a quick check-up before checking out with drugs that could have treated grandma’s breast cancer instead? What about all those students on fake student study visas? Surely they are accessing services they have no right to use?
Perhaps, but only if they stay for more than six months, which is how long you need to be in the UK before you can access HIV treatment on the NHS. Regardless of how sincere Nigel sounds when he tells you otherwise, there are actually safeguards against the misuse of public services. So many, in fact, that even hardline Tories supported foreign access to HIV treatment when it was proposed back in 2012, bringing it into line with all other infectious disease treatment.
Isn’t it odd that Nigel only gave us a figure about foreigners’ diagnoses of HIV rather than the figures of those who were actually treated? Also as a footnote, short-term study visas expire after six months leaving only the twice-as-expensive extended study visas for those trying to cheat the system.
The final strangeness thing about gusty Nigel’s facts is that he decided to use HIV as an example at all. After all, he could have chosen any illness, and didn’t he himself say that there was no difference in principle between HIV and cancer treatment?
Once again, I’m not going to claim that his using HIV as an example was intended to conjure up old bogeymen of race and sexuality, designed to scare you with an implied army of gays and blacks descending to the UK to infect us all with their ill-gotten illnesses. That would be insulting to your intelligence and, in any case, I don’t think you’re either homophobic or racist.
But what is slightly odd is that he chose an illness which, due to factors beyond any individual’s control, so drastically affects people from countries other than our own. I mean, that would be sure to artificially inflate the number of foreign residents diagnosed with it compared to British-born citizens. In fact, the only way he could have inflated it more was by using sickle-cell anaemia instead.
This is all rather troubling. Perhaps we should ask Nigel to clarify some of these points. If health tourism is real and prevalent we should absolutely stop it before it’s too late. I’m sure he’s got some facts that prove it beyond all doubt. All these misleading errors were surely just unfortunate mistakes.
Of course, it goes without saying that none of this makes Nigel any less gutsy. After all, it takes some real balls to claim you’re straight-talking while lying through your teeth.