MPs warn over HIV treatment ban

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Government measures to tackle so-called health tourism have left Britain dangerously at risk from HIV infection, an influential group of MPs warns today.

Government measures to tackle so-called health tourism have left Britain dangerously at risk from HIV infection, an influential group of MPs warns today.

A highly critical report from the select committee on health attacks the ban on illegal immigrants from receiving free NHS treatment for HIV. It warns the restrictions pose "a serious and escalating threat to public health" and accuses ministers of failing to understand the gravity of the threat.

The new health measures were aimed at preventing non-EU residents from travelling to the UK for free care. But the members of the health select committee say that illegal immigrants with HIV must qualify for free treatment to prevent them from spreading the disease. The report, New Developments in Sexual Health and HIV/Aids Policy, concludes that the condition will be forced underground if victims are deterred from taking an HIV test.

"We are deeply concerned that neither the department nor the public health minister appears to have considered or understood the public health implications of refusing HIV treatment to people who, although not legally resident, continue to live in this country," says the report. "Untreated HIV-positive people living in this country present a serious public health threat."

The MPs found little evidence of widespread "health tourism" and no evidence of people coming to the UK for free HIV treatment. Committee chairman David Hinchliffe said: "The HPA, 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'."

However, the Health Minister, John Hutton, rejected the committee's demands. "We simply do not agree that all illegal immigrants with HIV should receive free treatment without question," he said.

"The NHS has always had the power to charge non-residents for these services; we have simply strengthened the existing rules to give NHS staff more clarity over who is eligible for free treatment and who isn't."

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