In what seems certain to be the last Labour conference before a further general election, decisions were made to call on a future Labour government to scrap charges that stand as an obstacle to people accessing the NHS treatment they need.

A wide-ranging composite motion called for repeal of sections 38 and 39 of the 2014 Immigration Act and subsequent regulations which enforce up front charges of 150% of the cost of treatment on people who cannot prove they are normally resident in the UK.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth had earlier lent his support to this proposal at a conference fringe meeting and it’s likely to survive Diane Abbott’s subsequent statement that Labour will not take on all of the points of the immigration motion.

Nye Bevan, founder of the NHS insisted that services should be free to all, and rejected calls to charge “foreigners,” arguing it would raise little money but require everyone to prove identity. Theresa May’s racist “hostile environment” policies scrapped this principle, and NHS trusts are now required by law to check patients are entitled to free care.

Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign discovered that 18% of 9,000 women who gave birth in 2017/18 in Lewisham and Greenwich hospitals were challenged to prove their entitlement to NHS treatment, and  541 were charged £6,000-£9,000 for their care.

Now the Royal College of Midwives has demanded these charges be suspended until it can be proved they are not harming women.

BMA vice chair David Wrigley has also warned that doctors will not assist the imposition of a “hostile environment”: “It is a doctor’s job to treat the patient in front of them, not determine how the treatment is being paid for.”

People fighting to scrap the charges will of course have to combat the right wing media and their false and malicious claims on the costs of “health tourism”.

ν An additional positive step forward was Jonathan Ashworth’s speech committing Labour to scrap NHS prescription charges, which currently only apply to ten percent of prescriptions in England – while Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have already abolished them.

Citing the tragic example of 19-year old Holly Warboys who died because she couldn’t afford an inhaler, Ashworth said:

“People shouldn’t have to pay to breathe. Prescription charges are a tax on illness. I can confirm the next Labour government will abolish all prescription charges.”

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