NHS expenditure cuts to start with international students

Written by Xiaofeng Li, Ru Lin

Translated by Mi Zhang

The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games is a good opportunity for people from all over the world to appreciate the history and culture of the hosting country.

Just like China’s history and culture over the past 5000 years was shared through the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, the British proudly presented the development of British pop music and the National Health Service (NHS) through the London Olympic Games in 2012.

You may still remember the scene of the considerate nurses caring for the lonely children with great affection and love, but you may not know that some of these actors are international students.

The NHS was established in the 1940s and presently has more than 70 years of history. Many reforms have been conducted over this period of time, receiving a wide range of responses from the public.

Over the past six months, the news regarding NHS has been hard to ignore and you can easily find NHS-related information by grabbing a daily newspaper.

“Reform or Gone” was intensively discussed by the British government, industry professionals and academic researchers when a series of problems emerged, which included potential systematic risks and unprofessional behaviour by hospital staff.

Although the authorities are aware of these problems, they are struggling to come up with an effective solution under the fear of the vast impact of their actions.

Meanwhile, international students in the UK are limited in their ability to tackle these difficulties, and are concerned about their safety and health during their time of studying abroad.

In a recent Conservative Party conference, there was a call to “ban the right of free NHS to international students.” The correspondents from The Chinese Weekly interviewed the officials, who provided deep insight and analysis of the problems in the NHS system.

“Mom and Dad please don’t worry about me, I will look after myself and it is free to see the doctor in the UK.” That is the promise international students make to their parents before coming to study in the UK. However this will soon be a promise that can’t be kept. No one can guarantee that “international students” will be on the “free medical lists” any longer.

On the 26th of February, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “Do we still need to provide free NHS service to short time visitors, international students and temporary visa holders?”

Another bespoke man said, “NHS is not a global service, we cannot tolerate our national services being abused.”

Belt tightening

International students are shocked by the British Government’s decisions as their attitudes have been as unpredictable as the British weather. After all kinds of immigration tightening policies and overseas students joining the immigration category, these students now suspect that the “welcoming” logo was only a “friendly cover.”

Why overseas students? Liao Chen Yu, R&D Director of the British Health Department expressed his view: “I have discussed this issue with my colleagues, we agreed that international students do not take up a considerable proportion of NHS resources. Tackling the NHS problems by focusing on international students is possible, but ineffective. In reality, an ageing population and European immigration account for a significant proportion of NHS costs, however the British Government has limited ability to make changes on them. As the UK is a member of the EU, the British Government cannot refuse free NHS rights to European immigrants. Hence, it is easy to cut their costs by picking on “soft” non-European students.

“A penny saved is a penny earned.” Dr Hu Nai Jun has conducted extensive research on the British NHS system and analysed the reasons for abolishing free health care service during his research in the Asian Research Centre at LSE. He added: “NHS is a public service sponsored by the British Government, improving efficiency and controlling the costs are the core issues.  However, the most urgent question is how to bring the cost down.”

How much will international students cost?

According to a report on ‘The Economic Costs and Benefits of International Students’ conducted by Sheffield University, on average, international students each spend £6905 pounds of public services per year, compared to the £8388 spent by British citizens.
The report also reveals that, generally speaking, overseas students are young and healthy, hence they are not the main consumers of NHS services.
Liao Yu Chen also said: “GPs rarely ask patients’ background and personal information as it is confidential.  It is illegal to reveal patients’ information. Hence it is hard to judge the accuracy of the international patient’s numbers from other sources.”

Once the free NHS is cancelled, will there be any other solutions for international students?

Liao Yu Chen thought the reforms may be conducted gradually, she said: “In my opinion, international students will still be entitled to visit their GP, but cuts could be incurred in the high cost services, emergency inquiries, for example. However, there is a limited number of GPs in the UK, if the NHS does not make any internal adjustments, it will be difficult to cover the health care problems for such a large group of people. Just imagine, if a car accident happened to an international student, how could he/she afford thousands of pounds in medical expenses?

After the news was released, the discussion on this topic became popular. Some students said: “I have not even registered with a GP, I brought Chinese medicines with me…It is better to cancel, otherwise, an inefficient GP could do more harm than good.”
Some students used this opportunity to make a complaint: “Since I was young I have heard that if you have a problem that’s not serious you do not need to go to the NHS, if you have a serious problem, you may die while you are queuing for the treatment.”

Being grateful

International students from France, America and Australia expressed that free British health care is a treat, they have already become used to paying for health care insurance in their countries. They think that international students should not complain but be grateful.

In America, only people above 60 can enjoy free social health insurance, the majority of international students need to purchase health insurance. “Some schools and colleges even force their students to have health insurance before school administration,” said Hu Nai Jun.

Paul White, the vice president of Sheffield University said: “The change will cause trouble for schools in terms of management and labour costs.”

Hu Nai Jun laughed and joked: “The best way to face this change is by getting regular exercise and staying healthy.”