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

Asylum seekers and refugees already experience significant barriers to NHS care


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

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

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own