HC Deb 17 March 1958 vol 584 cc917-20
44. Sir M. Stoddart-Scott

asked the Minister of Health if he is aware that a dentist in the West Riding of Yorkshire, during the last 10 years, has treated patients under the Health Service from Turkey, Greece, China, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Iceland Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Yugoslavia. Germany, Holland, Poland, Switzerland, Palestine, Malta, Cyprus, Egypt, Eire, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, South Africa, Argentina, United States of America, France, the Rhodesias, Ghana, Nigeria and West Indies; and if he will take steps, in this and other similar cases, to obtain a refund of the cost of treatment from these countries with which Her Majesty's Government have no reciprocal agreement.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Derek Walker-Smith)

I am not aware of this individual case, nor of the precise significance of my hon. Friend's phrase "patients…from" the countries referred to. But in principle dental treatment under the National Health Service is available to all persons in this country subject to payment of the normal charges, and I have no power to recover from other Governments the cost of such treatment given to their nationals.

Sir M. Stoddart-Scott

If I send the name and address of this Huddersfield dentist, may I ask whether my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to work out accurately the cost of the dental treatment of these foreign nationals? Would he say whether he has any idea of what it would cost the British taxpayer for dental treatment given to foreign nationals in this country each year?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I shall be much obliged if my hon. Friend sends me details of this case. In looking at the list of the countries he has referred to, I can only point out that eleven are Commonwealth countries, two are countries with which we have reciprocal agreements, and some of them, like Latvia, Estonia and Poland, suggest to me—though I do not know the individual facts—that these patients may well be long-term refugees domiciled in this country, working here and paying taxes and contributions.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman resist any attempt made by hon. Members on his side of the House to crib and confine proper treatment of people who almost certainly have been working in this country for a considerable time?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I have already said twice in this House that I welcome Questions enabling me to put these matters before the House in their proper perspective. Regarding this case, I welcome the opportunity my hon. Friend has been good enough to say that he will give me to look at what on the face of it appears to be an unusual case.

Mr. Bevan

Would not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the most civilised course in this matter would be to extend the area of reciprocal agreement?

Mr. Walker-Smith

We are always anxious to extend the area of reciprocal agreement, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. In the case of the Health Service, the inhibiting factor is the absence of fully corresponding arrangements in countries overseas.

Mr. J. Eden

Has my right hon. and learned Friend any machinery to check abuses of this service by residents from countries other than the United Kingdom?

Mr. Walker-Smith

Regarding immigration arrangements, the National Health Service aspect is looked at, but I ask my hon. Friend to believe that there is no evidence of any wide-scale abuse of these arrangements, and that against the possibility of taking any action we have to weigh the serious inconvenience to which it would expose British residents.

47. Mr. E. Johnson

asked the Minister of Health if he will now arrange for the annual compilation and publication of statistics to show the value of treatment and other benefits under the National Health Service received by aliens.

Mr. Walker-Smith

I do not think the value of such statistics would be such as to justify the effort and expenditure needed for their collection.

Mr. Johnson

While welcoming the reciprocal arrangements as much as anyone, I feel that the House should be in a position to know what sort of bargain we are getting. If it is difficult to get these statistics, could the Minister tell me on what basis he answered my supplementary question a week ago when he said: …our best estimate of the cost leads me to suppose that it is negligible…."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1958; Vol. 584, c. 16.] If no statistics are available, how did he estimate the cost?

Mr. Walker-Smith

It has always been clear that the estimates made are rough estimates based on the number of aliens coming to this country, and the best estimate we can make of their use of the Service. To get the precise cost for which my hon. Friend asks, it would be necessary to ask hospitals, doctors, dentists, opticians and so on, first, to find which of their patients were aliens, and then to keep a separate record of the treatment of these patients, and finally, to make a separate record of the cost of such treatment.

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