Undocumented Migrants are closed off from NHS services

MPs Demand Suspension of NHS Hostile Environment

In a letter addressed to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, a cross-party group of 40 MPs has demanded the immediate suspension of NHS Hostile Environment policies.

The policies– such as immigration checks and upfront charging- have created a situation where undocumented migrants feel too afraid to access medical treatment, undermining the national fight against Coronavirus in the process. 

With the impact of the pandemic growing greater each day, it is hugely important that the NHS fulfils its original purpose as a health service ‘free at the point of delivery’. 

Yet undocumented migrants are forced to suffer in silence due to the fear of punishment and charging. The letter draws attention to a Filipino man known only as Elvis, who sadly died on the 8th of April after self-isolating at home with COVID-19 symptoms. Elvis had worked as a cleaner for ten years, and had suffered from both a cough and a fever for two weeks before passing away. 

Although COVID-19 symptoms are a major danger signal, no attempt was made to access medical help. This was borne out of a fear that he would be charged ‘thousands of pounds for his treatment, or that he would face immigration enforcement if he tried to access care’. 

With the impact of the pandemic growing greater each day, it is hugely important that the NHS fulfils its original purpose as a health service ‘free at the point of delivery’.

The letter states that the man’s wife is displaying the same symptoms, but feels unable to request help for exactly the same reasons. 

Undocumented migrants
Bell Ribeiro-Addy (left) was one of the three Labour MPs who coordinated the letter. [Image: LabourList]

NHS upfront charging was introduced in 2018 as part of the Hostile Environment, and requires patients to prove that they are entitled to free treatment. According to The Independent, non-EU patients are charged 50% more than it costs the NHS to treat them. 

Whilst it is positive that the government has added COVID-19 to the list of communicable diseases- meaning treatment is free for all people regardless of immigration status- upfront charging still applies to many of the underlying health conditions that leave a person vulnerable to COVID-19 in the first place. 

Taking this into account, the government’s actions thus far do little to reverse the cumulative impact of years of Hostile Environment policies.

As stated in the letter to the Health Secretary:

‘It does not undo years of hostile environment policies, in which migrants have been told that they will be charged for healthcare or faced with immigration enforcement when accessing public services. In the present moment, this undermines the government’s efforts to respond to the pandemic.’

As well as calling for the immediate suspension of all charges, the letter demands that an immediate data firewall be set up to prevent patients’ information being passed on to Immigration Enforcement.

Taking this into account, the government’s actions thus far do little to reverse the cumulative impact of years of Hostile Environment policies.

Bell Ribeiro-Addy- one of the three Labour MPs who devised the letter- had this to say:

“The NHS was founded on the idea that healthcare should be available to all who need it, regardless of where they’re from or their ability to pay. The government’s hostile approach to migrants goes against these founding principles.”

In response, a government spokesperson has said:

“The government has added coronavirus to the list of infectious diseases for which everyone from overseas can receive treatment or testing free of charge. Given that charges do not apply for coronavirus treatment, NHS trusts have been reminded that immigration checks to establish entitlement to free care are therefore not required.

“We have clearly communicated this and will soon be publishing information about the free treatment of coronavirus in around 40 different languages, to ensure the messaging is clear.”

NHS Hostile Environment
Undocumented migrants cannot access the treatment they need. [Image: MobiHealthNews]

The idea that the measures do not go far enough was also put forward in a letter from an alliance of medical associations, including the British Medical Association and Doctors of the World UK. 

Doctors of the World UK reiterate the idea that those with underlying health conditions are at an increased risk of requiring inpatient treatment were they to contract COVID-19. Despite this, they would not be eligible for free treatment for their pre-existing condition, effectively denying them adequate healthcare. 

[Header Image: ProMedical]

Written by
Cameron Boyle
1 comment
  • Immigrants from outside the EEA are not seen as humans, they pay twice for NHS care through taxes and extorsonate NHS surcharge during immigration application process. That is unfair, they are not refunded any of the double tax and they may never use the NHS, but immigrants from outside the EEA are undesirable so unnecessary pressure is put upon their family, finances and resources to make it exceptionally difficult for them to make their application successfully, this is a form of discrimination it can even be seen as misuse of power to negatively impact on certain groups of the community and used as a deterrent so immigrants from outside EEA are too burdened to apply or continue to apply for settled immigration status. The immigration rules was first put In place to restrict black and brown people’s movement that was their main aim. It is really sad to see in this day and age. Don’t attack me, My opinions are not racist so go do your own research.