Yesterday, we took our #StopSharing campaign to Westminster by parodying Theresa May’s “Go Home” vans. While the van drove around Westminster and circled the streets surrounding the Home Office, we, along with doctors, nurses and patients, stood in protest outside the Home Office saying “no” to “hostile environment” policies in the NHS. The original “Go Home” vans, which were driven around 6 London boroughs with areas of high migration in 2013, instilled an environment of fear and hostility, and have since become synonymous with May’s “hostile environment” policies. Our van mimicked the visuals but changed the messaging to target the Home Office, it read: “Doctors acting as Border Guards? 70,000 doctors and patients say NO to sharing patient data with the Home Office”.

Despite rain and a very early start, Medact, DocsNotCops, the National AIDS Trust, the Helen Bamber Foundation, Migrants Organise, and other organisations joined us, in the fight to end hostility in the NHS and make it safe for patients to access care without fear. Chanting “patients not passports” and “stop sharing in the NHS”, we stood in solidarity with our patients who are suffering as a result of these life threatening policies.

“Hostile environment” in the NHS

In early 2017, a damaging deal was made between NHS Digital and the Home Office allowing immigration officials to request patients’ personal details, including home address, date of birth and GP’s details. This information is then used to trace patients, detain them, and in some cases deport them.  In 2017 NHS Digital responded to 5,923 requests from the Home Office for information on patients suspected of committing immigration offences.[1]

Later in 2017, the Government introduced yet more harmful regulations forcing hospitals to withhold non-urgent care from anyone deemed ineligible for NHS care. Urgent and immediately necessary care should not be withheld but, as highlighted by the case of Windrush migrant Albert Thompson, the policy has seen cancer treatment withheld from patients.

Protest in the press

Our President, Dr Tim Dudderidge, writing in the Guardian, explained why we spoofed the “Go Home” vans and the terrible impact the “hostile environment” has on both patients and doctors.

Tim, quoted in Novara said: “for us it is of great concern that patients with serious health needs are scared of attending NHS services because they fear the Home Office […] doctors should not be prevented from caring for patients in need in this way”.

Our volunteer Dr, Pratheep Suntharamoorthy, a practising GP, was featured in the BMJ talking about the impact of Home Office polices on patients: “in the work that I do for the clinic we see a lot of patients who have always been hesitant about registering with GPs because of the risk that their information will be shared, but we used to be able to persuade them to do so,” he said. “Now we have to tell them that it is highly likely that information about them will be shared with the Home Office, and this has made them even more reluctant to register with a practice”.

The Huffington Post quoted Dr Peter Gough, a DOTW UK volunteer and Trustee: “Today, as doctors and nurses who work in the NHS, we are fighting for the right to provide care to our patients, and we look to the secretary of state for health and social care to protect the NHS from policies the that undermine the provision of healthcare”.

While yesterday was a great success in the bid to raise awareness about the “hostile environment”, we still have a long way to go and will keep campaigning until Home Office polices are removed from our NHS.

Read more about our #StopSharing campaign here: https://www.doctorsoftheworld.org.uk/stopsharing-campaign

[1] http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/health-and-social-care-committee/memorandum-of-understanding-on-datasharing-between-nhs-digital-and-the-home-office/written/76672.pdfv