ID cards may create health underclass, MPs say

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MPs have warned that a health "underclass" could be created by ID cards, with hundreds of thousands of people denied basic health care because they cannot show hospitals or GP surgeries the "entitlement" card.

They fear that contagious diseases, such as TB and sexually transmitted diseases, could go undetected and untreated because people without ID cards will not have access to doctors - except in an emergency.

The warning came as fresh doubts about the ID card scheme were expressed by opposition politicians who argued it should now be scrapped.

Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said people without ID cards may resort to dangerous "back street" operations. He is concerned that the Government has not considered the danger of a health "underclass" developing. He said the implications of the ID card for public health had not been property worked out and has asked Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Health, to resolve the issue of health care for people without ID cards before the legislation proceeds. He said doctors could be put in an invidious position if they have to turn away people. Ministers have said ID cards are a key tool in stopping unauthorised people using public services. The Government says up to 570,000 illegal immigrants are living in the UK.

Yesterday John Denham, the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, urged ministers to press ahead with the scheme. "There are a whole series of problems, from illegal immigration to the integrity of public services to counter-terrorism to identity fraud. It will make a significant difference to each of these things," he told BBC Radio 4's World at One.

His remarks came after it emerged that Tony McNulty, a Home Affairs minister, admitted recently that the case for ID cards may have been oversold. Yesterday Mr McNulty said he was merely trying to "introduce some reality and honesty into the debate".

But David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said the minister had "let the cat out of the bag. This scheme will cost the taxpayer billions of pounds, be fraught with practical difficulties and have a serious impact on our civil liberties," he said.

The Home Office said yesterday that no individual would be denied health care in the case of an emergency but it said the card could prove a key tool in preventing abuse of the NHS.