If recently proposed Government plans go ahead, the much protested introduction of plastic ID cards to the UK is not very far away.
The current Government, which scrapped the previous administration’s plans to introduce plastic ID cards after protests from civil liberty groups in 2010, has now announced a scheme to restrict so-called health tourism with the introduction of NHS entitlement plastic cards.
With doctors believing that more than one in ten patients they see are not eligible for NHS treatment, the Government aims to restrict access to free NHS care. The reforms will mean that those seeking NHS treatment will have to wait until they have lived in the UK for more than a year, although emergency and ante-natal care will not be subject to the same restrictions.
With the reforms currently under discussion in Parliament, MPs believe that the scheme will only succeed if those entitled to free healthcare can prove it by presenting plastic ID cards when they seek treatment. However, there are significant obstacles for MPs to overcome before the reforms can be implemented.
The European Commission is opposed to plans to restrict benefits for new immigrants and has made it clear that plans to restrict free healthcare will be similarly frowned upon. Civil liberties protest groups will also be rallying support to protest the introduction of the plastic ID cards, not least because of privacy issues. When support for the introduction of plastic ID cards was last assessed in 2008, over 25% of people were opposed to them.
However, little do many people know that when the NHS was founded in 1948 no one could access the service and receive treatment without first presenting an ID card.
Wartime identity cards were introduced at the start of World War II but when Labour came to power in 1945, they retained and expanded the use of the cards. Initially intended to prevent wartime deserters from claiming rations, eventually every British citizen needed the cards for tasks ranging from getting a passport through to receiving treatment from the newly established NHS.
When a Government alliance of conservatives and liberals reached power in 1952 they, like their contemporaries in 2012, abolished the wartime ID card. A part of the old system still survives to this day in form of the ID numbering system currently used to access NHS treatment and known as an NHS number.
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