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Mythbust

Migrants aren’t drain on health service

by Luke Lythgoe | 12.04.2016

Myth: EU migrants are drain on NHS

InFact: Migrants, who are mostly young, use the NHS less than the ageing native population. They also pay into welfare and staff the health service. They are a boon not a burden.

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Vote Leave says “uncontrolled EU immigration is putting a huge strain on our public services”. Newspapers such as the Daily Mail and Express are also quick to make the link between NHS woes and a “massive influx of EU migrants”.

But EU migration contributes to the NHS in two main ways. Firstly, EU nationals living and working in the UK pay more into the British welfare system than they take out. According to UCL research, between 2001 and 2011 nationals from the European Economic Area (EU member states plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) made a net contribution of £22.1 billion. Native Britons were a net drain to the tune of £624.1 billion.

Secondly, new NHS figures show 4.5% of its workforce is from EU countries. The figure is higher for professionally qualified clinical staff, with 6% of nurses and health visitors and nearly 9% of doctors coming from the EU.

Young migrants in an ageing population

In the decade to 2011, the number of people aged 65 and over rose by a million to 10.4 million. Of these, 6.4 million were British, making up 15% of the total British population. By comparison, 74,000 people aged 65 and over held EU passports – just 3.9% of the 1.8 million non-British EU nationals recorded on the census.

What’s more, while the native British population is getting older, the EU population in the UK is getting younger. The average age of native Britons has risen by two years to 40, but that of EU nationals has dropped by two years to 34.

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A&E: the four-hour wait

The Mail blames EU migration for longer A&E waiting times. Visits have “skyrocketed” by 59% in 10 years, and the number of people left waiting longer than the four-hour target has trebled.

Research by health charity the King’s Fund points to different causes. Firstly, much of the jump in attendance figures is down to the fact that the data now also include walk-in centres and minor injury units. Secondly, increased numbers turning up at A&E do not cause longer waiting times.

For example, about 10,000 more people a day visited A&E in summer 2014/15 than in winter, yet winter waiting times were longer. One reason, the King’s Fund argues, is that more older people attend A&E in winter, and they are the ones who, for various reasons, tend to wait longer.

Add into the mix other factors like staff shortages and people showing up at A&E unnecessarily, and EU migration becomes a small part of a complex picture.

EU babies

The Express takes particular umbrage at EU mothers having babies at the NHS’s expense, arguing nearly 476,000 births cost the NHS a “staggering” £1.3 billion. It transpires this was the cost over a decade; the sum for 2014 was £169 million.

Put into context, this figure is only 0.15% of the NHS’s £113.3 billion annual budget. Dementia costs the NHS £4.3 billion per year, with 810,000 people aged 65 and over afflicted. Britain’s elderly are a far more significant strain on the NHS, and the UK will need younger people – including those 476,000 EU babies – to support an increasingly long-lived population.

Finally, don’t think that quitting the EU would mean there would be more money for the NHS. Brexit could causing a recession – meaning less money for the health service, not more.

This article was updated on 17 May to change “EU nationals” to “nationals from the European Economic Area”. It was also updated on June 11 to include the final paragraph and to cut the paragraph on the UK’s population.

This article is an adaptation of a piece that previously appeared on InFacts.

Edited by Alan Wheatley

2 Responses to “Migrants aren’t drain on health service”

  • What about the country they leave? Take a look at Hungary – huge shortage of nurses in their health care system . Guardian report 28th Jan 2015 ‘every day for six years, three doctors and two nurses have left Hungary’ . The moral question of taking medical staff from poorer countries is ignored. Still – it saves us money in training costs. We should be ashamed.