Britain's National Health Service was built upon the firmly held conviction that good healthcare should be available to everyone in society - that it should be based on clinical need rather than one's ability to pay hefty sums of money upfront. Well, apparently that's no longer the case.
In a bid to appease an increasingly unhappy base of conservative separatists and UKIP zealots, the coalition government has announced a new, hard-line stance to make sure foreigners can't 'take advantage' of British hospitality anymore - namely, by making them pay for life-saving medical treatments at the point of delivery.
Is this the coalition's first half-assed legislative attempt to curb immigration? Certainly not. But it's probably the most likely to blow up in David Cameron's face.
Now, on the one hand, it isn't too hard to see where our xenophobic politicians are coming from. After all, it's fair play to argue those who aren't contributing to the pot shouldn't get a taste of the gumbo. But riddle me this: is it really worth the trouble?
The NHS very well may be the pinnacle of British exceptionalism. Foreign governments drool over its organisational structure, and expats love to brag about its compassionate superiority. Yet, for whatever reason, all we seem to do on home soil is complain about how shit it is.
A&E waits are too long, MPs moan, and there are never enough hospital beds. So, in order to address these perfectly treatable ailments, the government looks to bureaucratic micromanagement.
Over the past decade, regulators and auditors have crippled the NHS with paperwork and time-wasting exercises. Instead of seeing patients, clinical staff now spend £1bn a year collecting and checking data, playing with numbers and filling out mountains of paperwork. Doctors waste 10 hours per week filing away bureaucratic forms - over a third of which staff argue are neither useful nor relevant to patient care. Meanwhile, thousands of people are left in hospital waiting rooms unattended, nursing their broken limbs in agony so that government regulators can spend time compiling facts and figures that tell us just how inefficient the NHS really is. What a bloody joke.
Now, David Cameron wants to build upon that superfluous inactivity by forcing the nation's doctors and nurses to become immigration advisors, too. Because without processing someone's passport, how can we ever really rest assured we're helping the right sort of person, and not scroungers from filthy, non-developed countries? Talk about a moral high ground.
Starting next year, hospitals will be responsible for picking and choosing who can continue to receive free treatment based upon whether they've got the appropriate paperwork. And even if benevolent doctors choose to disregard this new policy and treat people before seeking identification, the NHS will then be faced with the monumental task of tracking down every patient after they're discharged just to send them a bill - or, more often than not, to ensure they've got a red passport and then bugger off.
It doesn't take an economist to figure out the new admin process will cost Britain a hell of a lot more than it's currently spending on free healthcare for non-EU citizens. Meanwhile, there's little to suggest this new policy will have any noticeable impact on the country's immigration stats. That's the textbook definition of a double-edged sword.
At the end of the day, the NHS is something to be proud of - if not for its high level of care, then for its compassionate principles. Yet by picking and choosing who's allowed to receive medical attention based upon a person's country of origin, we're not only spitting on our own morals - we're clogging up an already bureaucratic healthcare system with more unneeded paperwork and pointless rules. That means longer waiting times and more hassle for everyone - not just immigrants. So, while it may seem like a good idea to charge foreign scroungers for using our healthcare system, it will ultimately be taxpaying Brits who pay the price.