Health Committee

18 March 2005

18 March 2005


Government plans to tackle 'Health Tourism' may have serious effects on public heath and the fight against HIV.

A report by the Health Select Committee concludes that failed asylum seekers and illegal immigrants with HIV should receive free treatment to reduce the likelihood of onward transmission of HIV.

Under new Government rules, individuals who are in the UK without proper authority, including failed asylum seekers, visa overstayers and illegal immigrants, are no longer able to access free treatment on the NHS.

Treatment for certain infectious diseases is free of charge on public health grounds - but while this includes treatment for TB and sexually transmitted infections, it does not include treatment for HIV.

The reports concludes that if free treatment is not available, people may be deterred from taking an HIV test, and will remain in the community undiagnosed and infectious. Evidence also suggests that HIV treatment can in fact significantly lower an individual's infectiousness, reducing the potential for onward transmission.

Committee Chairman David Hinchliffe said:

"The Committee does not underestimate the difficulties the Government faces in combating 'health tourism', and it's vital that the UK does not become a magnet for HIV positive individuals seeking to emigrate to this country to access our health care.

However, we have seen no evidence that this is happening. The Government has no estimates of the numbers of people likely to be involved in health tourism, or of what they might be costing the NHS.

Evidence actually suggests that HIV positive migrants do not access NHS services until their disease is very advanced, sometimes years after their arrival in the UK.

The public health issue is a real concern - the Health Protection Agency, the Government's own public health advisory body, told us that if these individuals are not treated, and they remain sexually active in this country, then  'transmission is bound to go up'."

The report also notes that rates of sexually transmitted infections have continued to rise, as have waiting times for sexual health clinics. In fact, according to one of the Committee's witnesses, there is a "continuing crisis in sexual health".

To reduce the risk of onward transmission of sexually transmitted infections, the Government is aiming for all patients to be seen within 48 hours of requesting an appointment. However, the latest figures indicate that only 38% of people get an appointment within 48 hours, and over a quarter have to wait more than two weeks.

Commenting, David Hinchliffe said,

"Rates of sexually transmitted infections are still rising, and sexual health services are more overstretched than ever."

"The Government has announced extra investment and new targets around sexual health, which we welcome, but they will need to monitor the situation closely over the coming years to ensure the extra investment actually reaches clinics to enable them to deliver better services."

"It is particularly important that sexual health services are able to meet the extra demand that will be generated by the Government's planned health education campaign.

"Educating young people about relationships and sexual health is one of the most powerful tools we have to promote better sexual health. However, young people are still being taught about sex and relationships by teachers who lack both competence and confidence in this area."

The Health Committee recommends:

  • Government's sexual health education campaign should not begin until it is certain that sexual health services will be able to meet increased demand

  • Government should conduct a financial audit to ensure that extra sexual health funding actually reaches sexual health clinics

  • Chlamydia screening should focus on men as well as women

  • The Government should give GPs better incentives to provide sexual health services. A dedicated sexual health training programme should also be established for those working in primary care

  • By 2007, all sex and relationships education in schools should be taught by a specialist teacher rather than a form tutor.

  • Sex and relationships education should be a statutory and assessed part of the national curriculum in schools.

  • All HIV+ people regardless of their eligibility status should receive free treatment to reduce the likelihood of onward transmission of HIV

Notes for Editors:

  1. Embargoed hard copies of the report will be available from the House of Commons Press Gallery and the Reception 7 Millbank SW1P 3JA from 1030hrs on Friday 18th March 2005.

  2. Media Bids/Request for interviews with the Chairman should be directed to Luke Robinson on 07834 312 705

  3. For detailed information on the report the Committee can be contacted on 020 7219 2348.

  4. Committee Memberships is as follows: Mr David Hinchliffe MP (Chairman), Mr David Amess MP, John Austin MP, Mr Keith Bradley MP, Simon Burns MP, Mrs Patsy Calton MP, Jim Dowd MP, Mr Jon Owen Jones MP, Siobhain McDonagh MP, Dr Doug Naysmith MP, Dr Richard Taylor MP.

  5. The report's title is 'New Developments in HIV/AIDS and Sexual Health Policy and will be published as their third report of Session 2004-05 (HC 252).