Published 13th November 2019
Since 2015 undocumented migrants living in the UK have been charged to access ‘non-urgent’ healthcare upfront. This means that, if they are unable to pay, they will not be treated. The costs are calculated at 150% of the cost to the NHS resulting in bills of thousands of pounds.The rules are so complex that hospitals have ended up denying urgent care to patients, including cancer treatment and heart transplants.
People who can’t pay are being turned away from hospitals. Others agree payment plans but after six months any debt of more than £500, the Home Office has access to their information.
Most doctors do not want to play any role in immigration enforcement. They simply want to treat people in need, regardless of their race, religion, nationality, or any other such factor.
Many of the people we see at our clinic are desperate and frightened – we often see victims of trafficking and torture,” says Dr. Gough. “The threat of making their details known to the Home Office will deter many vulnerable people from going to the GP, even though they have every right to go. Many might instead simply disappear.”
Supporters of the system are quick to point the finger at ‘health tourism’ – the concept that non UK citizens travel here purely to access free healthcare. At Doctors of the World we know these claims are hugely inflated. The majority of patients we see are people who have lived in the UK for six years on average. Some came to the UK as part of the Windrush Generation.
We recognise the NHS is under pressure but it’s not migrants causing this and it’s definitely not their responsibility to fill the funding gaps.
At our clinic in east London our volunteer doctors and nurses provide medical consultations for undocumented migrants, while our caseworkers help them register to see a GP so that they can see a doctor in the future.
We spend many hours in the clinic persuading people who are very sick or heavily pregnant that the risk of not accessing the healthcare they need outweighs their fears of the Hostile Environment.