Election 2015: Nigel Farage defends HIV comments

Media caption,
Nigel Farage: “We’ve got to put our own people first”

UKIP Leader Nigel Farage has defended comments made in the TV leaders' debate about migrants using the NHS for HIV treatment costing £25,000 per year.

Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood responded by calling the comment "scaremongering" and saying he should be "ashamed".

And HIV charity the Terrence Higgins Trust said "HIV doesn't discriminate and politicians shouldn't either".

However, on Friday, Mr Farage repeated his view that "we shouldn't spend on health tourism".

While debating about the NHS, Mr Farage said: "You can come into Britain from anywhere in the world and get diagnosed with HIV and get the retro-viral drugs that cost up to £25,000 per year per patient.

"What we need to do is to put the NHS there for British people and families, who in many cases have paid into the system for decades."

Ms Wood responded: "This kind of scaremongering is dangerous... it divides communities and it creates stigma to people who are ill and I think you ought to be ashamed of yourself."

Image source, AFP

It was the most tweeted-about moment during the debate, sparked outrage among many.

Conservative Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss accused the UKIP leader of "attention seeking", while Labour leader Ed Miliband called the comment "disgusting" and Lib Dem Jo Swinson described it as a "new low".

It was not the first time Mr Farage had commented on the matter. Last October, he suggested in an interview with Newsweek Europe that immigrants with HIV should not be admitted to the UK.

He defended his view on Friday, telling the BBC more than 60% of the 7,000 patients diagnosed annually were not British.

"It seems rather clear to me they're coming here with the suspicion they may have it, knowing that we as a country will treat them," he said.

"Of course we want to help people all over the world, but what's the limit to this?"

A UKIP spokesman dismissed speculation that the comment had been deliberately planned to appeal to UKIP's core voters, although he said the issue had come up in pre-debate discussions.

BBC Political Correspondent Alex Forsyth, on the campaign trail in Ramsgate, said she had been told by a senior UKIP source that "people who support us are likely to agree with us on this issue".

And the comment could be viewed as part of a "shock and core" strategy to "reach out to their core voters".

Dr Rosemary Gillespie, of the Terrence Higgins Trust, said "discriminatory comments" make it harder to encourage people to take a test and stay safe.

"It was great to see so many people express outrage. If we do not take an inclusive approach and provide treatment for people who need it, we will never prevent onward transmission," she added.

"Such ill-informed and discriminatory comments generate stigma, and make it harder to encourage people to take a test and stay safe."