Doctors spoof May’s “go home” vans in protest to “hostile environment” in the NHS

Published 30th April 2018

Today, a van spoofing Theresa May’s “go home” vans will drive though Westminster and Whitehall as doctors, nurses and midwives go to the Home Office to make a stand against the Home Office’s use of NHS services and staff to carry out immigration enforcement. The “go home vans” were one of the most controversial aspects of the government’s hostile environment policy.

The action follows a petition, signed by 70,000 doctors and patients, calling on Jeremy Hunt and NHS Digital to stop the Home Office using NHS patients’ personal information to track down and deport migrants.

Dr Peter Gough, an NHS GP and volunteer for Doctors of the World (DOTW) UK, said:

“At DOTW UK’s clinic, we see people in urgent need of care, including cancer patients and heavily pregnant women, who are refused treatment or simply too afraid to even approach the NHS.

“Anyone who works in the NHS knows the fundamental role timely healthcare plays in protecting patients, NHS resources and society as a whole. These policies, which deliberately frustrate this fundamental principle of effective healthcare delivery, are short-sighted and dangerous.  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.”

Dr Tim Dudderidge, an NHS doctor and President of DOTW UK, said:

“It is wonderful to see so many medical colleagues supporting our campaign. As doctors, it is essential that we protect the boundaries of patient confidentiality. 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.

“The Department of Health & Social Care’s guidance is very clear – urgent care should not be withheld from anyone – but in practice these rules are poorly understood by many in the NHS, meaning people living in the UK are going without that life-saving care that they are entitled to”.

The spoof vans, organised by DOTW UK and the campaigning organisation 38 Degrees, turn the Home Office’s anti-migrant rhetoric on its head, mirroring the visuals of the van but changing the text to condemn Home Office policies: “Doctors acting as border guards? 70,000 doctors and patients say ‘NO’ to sharing patient data with the Home Office.” The van will drive around Westminster and Whitehall, meeting with DOTW UK volunteer doctors, nurses, and supporters outside the Home Office.

Anna Miller, DOTW UK Policy & Advocacy Manager said:

“Today we are parodying the abhorrent “go home” vans that became synonymous with Theresa May’s hostile environment policy in 2013. The ‘Go Home’ vans were intended to create an environment of fear, which has now spread to the NHS.

“Sajid Javid has made a commitment to delivering a fair and humane immigration policy that reflects British values. These words are very welcome but it’s policies which count. We look forward to seeing a new approach that allows NHS doctors to focus on the wellbeing of their patients”.

Hostile Environment in the NHS

In early 2017, Department of Health and NHS Digital signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with 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.  Department of Health figures published show that the Home Office made 8,127 requests for data in the first 11 months of 2016. This led to 5,854 people being traced by immigration teams.

MPs and medical bodies, including the British Medical Association and the Royal College of GPs, have condemned the deal, with the cross-party Health and Social Care Committee calling on NHS Digital to stop sharing patient information immediately.

Later in 2017, the Government introduced 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.

Impact on healthcare professionals

The impact of hostile environment polices in the NHS are not limited to patients alone. Patient confidentiality is the cornerstone of any functioning healthcare system and essential for NHS staff to be able to do their job. Yet the data sharing arrangement undermines a patient’s trust in their doctor.  The new charging rules requiring hospitals to withhold non-urgent care mean doctors are forced to withhold treatment based on a person’s immigration status and discharge sick patients.

Anyone in need of healthcare but too afraid to go to the NHS can contact Doctors of the World UK on 0207 0789629 for free and confidential healthcare and advice.

For more information, contact Ella Abraham on eabraham@doctorsoftheworld.org.uk/ 0207 167 5789.