New report reveals true scale of inequality in the UK and impact of COVID-19 on ethnic minority and migrant communities

Published 27th July 2023

Everybody needs healthcare sometimes. And no recent time has been a more pressing reminder of this reality than the COVID-19 pandemic. During this crisis, the NHS was a symbol of strength we all rallied to celebrate and protect. It was there to look after each and every one of us. However, at Doctors of the World UK, we witnessed the other side of that reality, where people were forced into extremely vulnerable circumstances by policies that overlooked and, at times, rejected their needs.

The report Not by choice – the unequal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on disempowered ethnic minority and migrant communities, shows that too many of the policy decisions that were made during this health emergency either did not understand the evidence on inequality or ignored it, and that this was particularly true for ethnic minorities and migrants.

For many years Doctors of the World UK has warned of the risk that exclusionary and hostile migrant health policies present both to individual and public health. These warnings have been largely ignored, as the UK Government has ushered policy after policy that pushes people who sought safety and a brighter future in the UK further away from the care and duty of the NHS.

It’s no wonder then, that when the COVID-19 pandemic reached the UK, our ability to support and protect migrant communities across the country was severely limited. We failed some of the people who were most in need of help. In a time of collective uncertainty and anxiety, people with experience of migration were all too often left without essential information or the resources to protect themselves and their loved ones’ health.

We all understand that during a pandemic, medical care and public health interventions need to reach and benefit the whole population. But it appears that we still need to be reminded that this inclusion must be regardless of a person’s immigration status, and that this must take precedence over any political agenda. It is a fundamental truth that any policy that prevents or delays people from accessing services, be it legal restrictions, practical barriers, or lack of trust in the healthcare system, undermines our ability to respond to a pandemic.

Healthcare is a human right. It was and remains the responsibility of those in power to ensure that everyone living in the UK is able to access health services, including those in the most vulnerable of situations, especially during a public health emergency. Through this report, we hope to offer constructive insight into how this essential vision is achieved.

Watch Thabo’s testimony – Expert by Experience, National Health Advisor at Doctors of the World


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