Coalition calls for the immediate suspension of NHS charging to prevent more COVID-19 deaths over the winter
Published 6th October 2020
Charging migrants for hospital services is putting lives and public health at risk, and could undermine the UK’s COVID-19 response, warns a coalition of academics, non-governmental organisations, professional bodies and people with lived experience of healthcare exclusion.
Today, Doctors of the World UK (DOTW), Lancet Migration: global collaboration to advance migration health, and the Faculty of Public Health (FPH) are launching a coalition campaign to call for universal and equitable access to NHS services during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
The coalition said as a first priority, the UK Government must immediately suspend the NHS charging regulations, which pose a serious risk to public health and are causing unnecessary suffering and death among some of those in the most vulnerable situations in the UK, such as destitute migrants.
“In our clinic, we see patients too afraid to go to hospital in case they receive a bill they have no chance of ever being able to pay,” said Doctors of the World UK Head of Policy and Advocacy, Anna Miller. “Often these are people who are already living in very difficult circumstances, without a secure home or enough money to meet their basic food and clothing needs.”
In April, DOTW, Lancet Migration, FPH, along with more than 30 other medical and non-profit organisations, wrote to the Home and Health secretaries urging them to suspend charging and all associated immigration checks and data sharing to ensure no one in the UK was prevented from seeking care due to fear of immigration enforcement. But so far the government has failed to act.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise again and winter fast approaching, the government cannot afford to ignore the experts and wealth of evidence any longer. Failure to include migrant and refugee populations in the UK’s COVID-19 response at this critical point in time means any public health measures to control the virus are inequitable and ineffective.
“As we head into winter, no one wants a situation where people can’t get medical help when they need it or are forced to manage health conditions alone,” said Ms Miller. “We really need every person and every family to feel safe to go forward to NHS services – including COVID-19 testing services – without the risk of financial or legal consequences.”
The Hands Up for Our Health coalition campaign calls for a united push for universal access to NHS services for everyone living in the UK, but particularly the most marginalised, with three key asks for central government:
1. Suspend NHS charging during the pandemic
To immediately suspend the NHS charging regulations, giving everyone the chance to see a doctor or nurse when they need to. This public health change is needed urgently as charging migrants for hospital services threatens the health of both individuals and the population as a whole during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
2. Investigate the impact of NHS charging
To carry out research and an investigation into the impact of charging regulations on individual and public health, including during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to invite coalition partners to take part in joint action to bring about long-term reform of the charging policy.
3. Encourage the government to build back better
To commit to improving access to all NHS services for everyone living in the UK as part of the government’s plan to “build back better”. This should include developing policy alternatives to the existing regulations.
You can view the key asks below.
Join the campaign for our health
Over the coming weeks and months, the Hands Up for Our Health coalition will be approaching more organisations and individuals to join the campaign, and urging the UK Government to act on our three asks.
Will you put your hand up for our health?