Asylum seekers ‘too afraid’ to seek NHS care, report saysRita Dune
Asylum seekers ‘too afraid’ to seek NHS care, report says.
Watchdog says people failing to seek care over fear of upfront costs and of data being shared with the Home Office
The NHS’s obligation until recently to share data with the Home Office has deterred many asylum seekers from accessing healthcare. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA
Asylum seekers who need NHS care have been left in “considerable fear” because of the government’s “hostile environment” policies, according to the human rights watchdog.
In a highly critical report the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says people have gone without medical help since ministers forced the NHS in England to impose upfront charges to access care last year.
Pregnant and disabled asylum seekers in particular have been unable to get treatment, or have been too scared to seek it, as a direct consequence of both the charges and also fears that their data would be shared with the Home Office.
The commission has also urged ministers to ditch their insistence on charging refused asylum seekers in England for healthcare, in order to ensure that no one’s health suffers. Labour, the Liberal Democrats and a number of health charities have already called for the policy to be suspended.
“Everyone should have access to good-quality healthcare, regardless of who they are and where they come from,” said Rebecca Hilsenrath, the watchdog’s chief executive.
“People seeking and refused asylum are likely to have particular health needs because of past distressing experiences and the traumatic effects of fleeing to a different country.
“It’s therefore crucial that they are able to fully and easily access healthcare and that their rights are protected by keeping healthcare separate from immigration enforcement. This is just about common humanity,” she added.
Its report, by academics from Imperial College London with input from Doctors of the World, found that the NHS charging regulations and duty on it to share data with the Home Office constituted “important barriers” to asylum seekers requesting healthcare.
In addition, asylum seekers’ poverty means they often cannot afford to get to healthcare appointments or pay for prescriptions, it found.
“People’s experiences indicate considerable fear and misunderstanding about how personal and patient information and data might be used in relation to their immigration status,” the researchers found.
The Home Office’s policy of dispersing asylum seekers around the country, and them sometimes having to move several times, also makes it hard for them to get NHS care.
“Pregnant women need to see a midwife, children need vaccinations and people with chronic conditions need a GP. Policies that prevent people from accessing NHS services just cause more problems in the long term,” said Dr Katherine Taylor, a GP and health adviser to Doctors of the World.
The Home Office suspended the NHS’s sharing of asylum seekers’ personal details with immigration authorities earlier this year after it sparked an outcry, notably from the Commons health select committee.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We take the wellbeing of asylum seekers very seriously, and they have full and free access to the NHS. Those in receipt of asylum support because they would otherwise be destitute do not have to pay for prescriptions.
“Supported asylum seekers have the costs of travel to hospital appointments paid for by the NHS and we are absolutely clear that having a serious medical condition has no bearing on the outcome of an asylum claim.”
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