Health tourism to this country costs us a very great deal of money. People in government have to make tough choices. And if the choice is that we increasingly say to people – particularly older people – 'we cannot treat you for breast cancer, we cannot treat you for prostate cancer, we haven’t got the money' – whilst at the same time we allow people to fly into Britain who have got no link with this country who have contributed nothing to this system….
We’re prepared to give them the drugs for being HIV positive you then get yourself into a situation where you ask yourself a question: is the job of the National Health Service to look after people here or is it to be an international health service?
So said Nigel Farage during Thursday night’s leaders' debate, as he repeated his claims that immigrants with HIV were putting a strain on the health service.
We cannot emphasise this enough: there is no evidence to suggest Farage’s claim that treating immigrants with HIV is putting a strain on the NHS.
In fact it's quite the opposite. As an open letter calling on Farage to apologise for the remarks (which was signed by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon on Thursday) notes, many immigrants to the UK who have HIV come from countries offering treatment and care for the disease, or acquired the disease in the UK. Either way, treating everyone saves money.
Since an amendment to NHS Charging Regulations in 2012, HIV treatment has been available free to everyone in the UK who needs it, regardless of immigration status. This is because providing antiretroviral treatment for all people living with HIV greatly reduces HIV transmission, encourages earlier testing and health-promoting behaviours and keeps people living with HIV healthy, reducing additional healthcare costs. The coalition government implemented this change because it saves money.
There's also no evidence that people are coming to Britain specifically to be treated for HIV. A 2008 report by the National Aids Trust found no evidence that patterns of migration to the UK reflected places where there was no access to HIV treatment.
The report concluded:
There is no evidence to demonstrate HIV health tourism to be a significant or real motivation for migration to the UK. There is considerable evidence to demonstrate that HIV health tourism cannot be a significant reason for the migration to the UK of HIV-infected individuals, in particular the lower rates of HIV prevalence compared with country of origin the long average delays between arrival in the UK and accessing HIV testing and care and the evidence available on the actual motivations of migrants coming to the UK.
We'll leave the final point to the Independent columnist Ian Birrell: