Headlines: July 27th, 2004

Doctors’ representatives are concerned that introducing identity cards may exclude vulnerable groups from receiving medical treatment. The British Medical Association is asking for clarification on a number of issues it believes have been raised by proposals for an ID card system, although it has acknowledged that such a system may have benefits in providing a straightforward way to assess a patient’s eligibility to healthcare.

The BMA’s head of science and ethics has also highlighted the need for research into alleged fraudulent use of the health service. Dr Vivienne Nathanson said that in spite of government claims on the scale of abuse of the NHS, the BMA was unaware of any evidence to back these up.

Among the issues raised by the doctors is the position of socially excluded groups, such as failed asylum seekers, the frail elderly or those with serious mental illness. They are all less likely to access public services effectively and the obligation to register for an ID card could act as an additional disincentive. They are also worried that failed asylum seekers could be abandoned by the healthcare system and are asking for flexibility so that doctors can treat vulnerable individuals who are not eligible for free care and do not fulfil the criteria for ‘immediately necessary’ care.

The BMA also wants clarification on what is meant by ’emergency’ or ‘immediately necessary’ care or treatment. It says not treating patients for non-emergency conditions might cost the NHS far more in the long run.

The Association is also concerned that doctors might be asked to police the card system and pass on eligibility information to bodies such as the police or the Home Office and says this would create a conflict of professional interest for doctors whose primary professional duty is to care for patients on the basis of clinical nee