Effects of immigration on NHS waiting times

The effects of immigration on NHS waiting time

This BSG Working Paper brings fresh evidence to the debate about the impacts of immigration on Britain’s National Health Service. Using immigration data from 141 local authorities in England merged with administrative information drawn from the Hospital Episode Statistics (which processes over 125 million admitted patient, outpatient and accident and emergency records each year) the authors are able to draw direct and evidence-based correlations between immigration figures and NHS waiting times.

The analysis of their data shows that immigration actually reduced waiting times for outpatient referrals. On average, a 10 percentage point increase in the share of migrants living in a local authority would reduce waiting times by 9 days. The authors find no evidence that immigration affects waiting times in A&E and in elective care. Their research does reveal, however, that the effects can be very different in deprived areas: they observed that native internal migration (often triggered by immigration inflows) does increase NHS waiting times.

The authors provide a full analysis of the data and likely explanation factors for their findings in the Working Paper. They suggest their findings are likely driven by two key factors. First, migrants tend to be young and healthy upon arrival ("healthy immigrant effect") and likely to have a smaller impact on the demand for NHS services. Second, the arrival of immigrants increases the likelihood of natives moving and accessing health services in a different local authority. Thus, the effects of immigration on the demand for health care services are dispersed throughout the country (via internal migration).

The working paper was featured in The Economist - "Healthcare and immigration: A transfusion, not a leech". The research was also the topic of some articles published soon after the UK Home Secretary's speech at the Conservative party conference. "Immigrants 'help NHS waiting times go down', report shows, despite what Theresa May just said" (Huffington Post), "High immigration to an area actually reduces NHS waiting times there, research finds" (The Independent); "Facts and Fiction in the UK Immigration Debate" (Huffington Post).

A blog post written by the authors also appeared in the LSE Blog.

About the authors:

Osea Giuntella is Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Economics at Nuffield College and the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. Catia Nicodemo is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Health Service Economics and Organisation, Department of Primary Health Care and the Department of Economics, University of Oxford. Carlos Vargas-Silva is an Associate Professor and Senior Researcher at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society, University of Oxford.