Doctors being 'held to ransom' over asylum seekers
A ROW has broken out between GPs and a Bristol law firm over treatment of failed asylum seekers.
The clash comes after city-based lawyers Deighton Pierce Glynn warned GP practices that refused to register asylum seekers that they faced legal action.
One leading city doctor said involving lawyers in the process was "the wrong way of doing things" and called for common sense to be applied instead. And a Tory MP has accused the firm of "holding doctors to ransom" and plans to raise the matter in Parliament today.
Kingswood MP Chris Skidmore has been campaigning on the issue of NHS treatment of foreigners, claiming North Bristol NHS Trust alone has written off £1.7 million in unpaid bills for hospital treatment in recent years.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
He has written to Deighton Pierce Glynn, based on Colston Avenue, telling them he is "deeply concerned" about their actions.
Mr Skidmore said: "Lawyers should not be dictating to the NHS."
He insisted GPs were allowed to choose who they register and said his argument was "morally right".
Mr Skidmore added: "It is wrong for GPs to be held to ransom by lawyers when it is clear that the NHS and our healthcare services should not be allowed to be abused. Our healthcare system may be free, but that does not mean it can be a free-for-all."
But Mr Skidmore's arguments were dismissed by Adam Hundt, a partner at Deighton Pierce Glynn.
Mr Hundt said: "He has got the wrong end of the stick if he thinks we are trying to change the law. We are trying to apply the law as it is.
"Nobody is excluded from GP treatment. It is very clear. Hospital treatment is different.
"People come to us when they have been refused registration with a GP.
"There is nothing in the law that permits them to do that. Refusing them isn't lawful."
Mr Hundt, whose company specialises in cases of people being denied medical treatment, added: "GPs aren't legal experts – we are."
As well as failed asylum seekers, other overseas residents can cause confusion, said Dr Tom Frewin, Bristol spokesman for the British Medical Association.
Dr Frewin, of Clifton Village Practice, said that although the issue did not affect his own practice it was relevant to areas of Bristol with a high concentration of asylum seekers.
He said it was essential to ascertain whether a patient was entitled to NHS treatment in this country, where they lived, and whether the treatment was urgent or routine.
Dr Frewin said: "With asylum seekers, it's about whether they are entitled to NHS services or not. It can be complex. In theory, you ought to know the regulations of every country. If you have a lot of foreign people living in an area, it makes it difficult to figure out who's entitled and who's not."
Asked about lawyers getting involved, he said: "It's not a very welcome intervention. It's the wrong way of doing things, and I am afraid that often they get it wrong."
Dr Frewin said he had never turned away anyone living in the area who had been entitled to NHS care.
He said: "You can't just say 'I don't like your face, I won't register you'.
"That would be actionable."
Mr Hundt said the cost of the NHS treating foreign nationals was "pretty minuscule" compared to its total budget.
But Mr Skidmore, who puts the total known cost across the country at £60 million, said this was just the tip of the iceberg. He believes it is impossible for hospitals to recover the costs for treating all foreign patients, and believes the law should be changed to restrict free treatment to those paying taxes in this country.
He said: "It is being abused on every level. There is a limited amount of money in the NHS, and it can't be a free-for-all."
MP's were due to debate the issue in Westminster Hall this morning.