The story 'Boris Johnson criticised over medical guide for migrants' on 11 April 2012 perpetuated common myths about migrants and healthcare.
Migrants in the UK are permitted to register with a GP regardless of their immigration status, to enable access to early and preventative primary care where necessary. However there is no evidence that access to the National Health Service encourages people to come to the UK as so-called 'health tourists', as suggested by the Migration Watch press release and the article.
By contrast, evidence from individual healthcare providers and charities suggests that migrants under-use the health system, often wrongly assuming that they are not eligible to receive care. Most migrants only seek medical help after having been resident in the UK for a significant period of time. Failure to access early treatment can lead to individual and public health risks and to greater costs from expensive hospital treatment further down the line. For example, the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health (CEMACH) in the UK recently reported that black African mothers, the majority of whom were recent migrants, had a mortality rate nearly four times that of white women. This was due, in part, to inadequate information about their healthcare entitlements.
Based on this we welcome the initiative by the Mayor of London to provide easy to access information on how migrants already living in the UK can register for primary care and urge him to keep this information available online.
Access to primary health care services for all who need it, whatever their status in the UK, is beneficial for migrants, for our health services and for the public purse. Efforts by the GLA and other public bodies to raise awareness about the importance of registering and the procedure to do so should be welcomed.
Ros Bragg, Manager, Maternity Action
Ezinda Franklin-Houtzager, Coordinator, Medact
Don Flynn, Director, Migrants Rights Network
Deborah Jack, Chief Executive, National Aids Trust
Fizza Qureshi, Manager, Project:London Doctors of the World UK
Lisa Power, Policy Director, Terrence Higgins Trust