Immigration Bill: Britain's most vulnerable could be refused essential care

Asylum seekers and refugees already experience significant barriers to NHS care

Share

Today the Immigration Bill is having its second reading in Parliament. This has coincided with much discussion about migrants’ access to NHS services, with plans being put in place to charge certain groups for primary healthcare.

Such plans will be counterproductive, costly and will increase health inequalities.

The Refugee Council is extremely concerned that the plans will lead to some of the most vulnerable people in British being deterred from accessing or being wrongly refused essential care.

Under the new plans, asylum seekers will be exempt from charges, but we know such exemptions are often irrelevant in practice, and will not be sufficient to guarantee access to healthcare.

Asylum seekers and refugees already experience significant barriers to NHS care despite being entitled to free treatment. We see many examples of the people we work with struggling to register with GPs and access other NHS care. 

This can be easily demonstrated through the experiences of Karim, an asylum seeker from Afghanistan. Karim is a victim of sustained torture and imprisonment and as a result suffers from a host of mental and physical health issues.

He tried to register with GP surgeries in the area he was living but was told that the Home Office letter detailing his address was not enough, and that he needed to produce photographic ID and additional proof of address.

As an asylum seeker, he had no national passport and did not pay any utility bills. The Home Office had not provided him with photographic ID.

After his failed attempts at registering he approached the Refugee Council because of his multiple health conditions.

Our staff negotiated with the practice manager of a surgery in his area who agreed that he could register. He was referred to a walk-in clinic for immediate treatment.

Karim was provided with a letter addressed to the practice detailing the agreement and advised to approach the surgery in person. He attempted this three times unsuccessfully; again he was told he must have photographic ID to register.

In the meantime, one of his conditions he suffered from deteriorated, an infection in his finger spread to his heart and he fell ill. He was admitted to hospital through A&E for treatment.

When Karim was discharged he had no GP to follow-up his treatment, as a result he did not continue his medication and his finger became infected again.

The difficulties Karim has experienced in accessing care has not only resulted in huge personal cost, but will also have resulted in significantly higher costs to the NHS.

Asylum seekers and refugees carry a range of different documents to evidence their status. Some refugees have to wait many months for any documents at all. As Karim’s experience demonstrates, there is already considerable confusion around entitlement.

Extending charging will only exacerbate this problem. Medical professionals are not immigration officials, nor should we expect them to be.

Refugees and asylum seekers came to the UK escaping persecution. It is our responsibility to offer protection and a place of safety, not to discriminate and to marginalise them further.

The Government urgently needs to look again at these plans, or it threatens to put already persecuted people at even greater risk.

Maurice Wren is Chief Executive of the Refugee Council - the leading organisation working with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Science teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a languages...

Year 6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Year 6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Year 4 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 4 Primary Teachers needed Randst...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: out of time, polling and immigration and old words

John Rentoul
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past