Britain’s Health System ‘Overwhelmed’ by HIV-Positive People Seeking Treatment, Asylum
HIV-positive people from abroad constitute up to two-thirds of the total number of people receiving free antiretroviral treatment under Britain's National Health System and have "overwhelmed" the system, leading officials to institute a mandatory HIV screening process for people coming into the country, London's Sunday Telegraph reports. Human rights legislation in the country entitles HIV-positive people from developing nations where medical care is not available to seek asylum in England and receive free NHS care, which can cost up to $1.7 million over a lifetime (Elliott et al., Sunday Telegraph, 6/15). As a result, hundreds of HIV-positive people are "streaming" into the country seeking treatment, which costs an average of $25,000 a year per person (O'Flynn, Express, 6/16). The policy has resulted in a rise in the nation's number of AIDS cases and "an enormous financial hole of around [$33.5 million]," Dr. Anne Edwards, a consultant for the Oxford Radcliffe NHS Trust, said, adding, "Not only do we not have enough money for our own population, but we are having to treat lots of people from other countries. We are shelling out huge amounts of money. ... The government needs to come up with a system which rules on people's eligibility."
In response to the problem, the government is considering how to implement compulsory HIV screening for those entering England from countries with high HIV prevalence. Officials met last week to discuss the program, and a senior official said, "We have moved from considering whether to introduce screening to what form it should take. We are drawing up a list of high-risk countries." Trevor Phillips, head of the Commission for Racial Equality, who opposes mandatory screening, said, "Every patient should be treated equally. I can't imagine any British doctor would suggest that patients should be treated differently based on their origin. If there are budget constraints then a case needs to be made for more resources" (Sunday Telegraph, 6/15). In addition, the British Medical Association said that the problem has been exaggerated, and an investigation is currently underway to determine the true severity of the problem, according to an official in the Department of Health (Alleyne, Telegraph, 6/16).