When Maria* discovered a lump on her breast last autumn, she needed to see a doctor urgently. But she had been too scared to go to the doctor for years.

Maria is an undocumented migrant from the Philippines who has lived in the UK for many years and works as a cleaner. She sends the few extra scraps of money she earns, as well as the unwanted clothes that her employer sometimes gives her, to her children back home.

"For years I had just tried to protect myself from getting sick, like by always wearing warm clothes, because I thought it wasn’t safe to go to the doctor," recalls Maria, a slight middle-aged woman with a gentle manner.

Maria knew the lump was too serious to ignore - her father had died of cancer and her sister had had breast cancer. But when she tried to register with her local GP surgery, the staff repeatedly asked her for immigration papers she didn’t have, even though everyone in the UK has the right to see a GP for free and no such documents are needed.

“When they kept asking for my visa, I was so scared and embarrassed,” she says. “And in those weeks, when I didn't know if the lump was benign or not, I wished I had the power to just disappear.”

Maria then heard about Doctors of the World’s London clinic from a friend. Our clinic team advocated on her behalf, explaining her rights to GP surgery staff and writing letters to support her registration. When the first surgery still refused to take her on, we simply found one that would. We also made sure she was referred for an emergency biopsy. 

Maria didn’t go for her first biopsy appointment - she was too scared after receiving hospital letters stating that the hospital might share her details with the Home Office, the government department that handles immigration. We’ve launched a major campaign to get the government to halt such data-sharing because it’s a growing concern amongst our patients.

After returning to our clinic to talk her through her worries, Maria went to her second appointment. The lump was now over 4cm wide. It was found to be benign but, due to her family history of cancer, doctors decided to remove it.

Maria had her surgery this year and is now doing well. “You helped me a lot,” she says of Doctors of the World. “Without you, maybe I would never have gone to the doctor and maybe the lump would still be there, getting bigger.”

*Name has been changed