I received a letter this week inviting me to attend an appointment at my local hospital. It is for some treatment for an on-going condition that I have put off for too long and am glad that the letter has now arrived. I can start to plan around it and soon I’ll be like new.
The letter told me about the procedure, where it will be carried out, what time I should arrive and what I should expect. All useful stuff but at the bottom of the page there was a paragraph that caught my eye which read:
‘NHS treatment is only free to those who are currently resident in the UK for reasons of lawful settlement. By attending this appointment you are confirming that you are entitled to free treatment. If it transpires that you are not entitled to free NHS treatment you must pay for the treatment.’
Fair enough. I understand all this but it got me thinking. OK, it’s a short paragraph which doesn’t use much ink but its addition meant that the letter went onto two pages instead of one and this must be the case for all of the letters that get sent out. I don’t know how many appointments there are but across the country there must be thousands over the year and so this paragraph must add considerable cost in time, what with ink, paper, labour, postage etc.
Providing treatment to people who are not entitled must be a big problem then, otherwise why bother adding it to the letter?
But why add it to my letter? I have been a patient of the NHS now for over fifty years. I have been attending clinics for this condition for over three years and each time I go I am asked to confirm my name, date of birth and the first line of my address. This information hasn’t changed since the last millennium and the records show that. I don’t need to prove my entitlement as my records show that I already have.
Rather than asking me now whether or not I am entitled would it not have made more sense to ask when I started the road to this treatment? I’m sure that this would have been a much more cost effective approach.
The number of non-EU immigrants into the United Kingdom in 2011 was 300 thousand or approximately 0.5% of the population. Is it worth adding this information to all letters for this amount of people or is the reason that this paragraph appears nothing to do with the money?