UK: Discriminatory National Health System policies

protestLast week, thousands of NHS (National Health System) workers and activists marched in the cities of London, Newcastle and Manchester to protest against a health policy that has left migrants too scared to access care.  The government’s so-called ‘hostile environment’ policy has been described as discriminatory and inhumane.

This policy, which was initially introduced by the Home Office in 2014, includes:

  • ID checks when accessing hospital care;
  • charging migrants 150% the cost of the service;
  • sharing of the patients’ details and addresses with the Home Office.

No Borders in the NHS

According Doctors of the World UK, which has a clinic in East London that provides support to those excluded from healthcare, many of their clients are too afraid to seek medical help, fearing arrest by the Home Office, detention or even deportation.

Finding and tracking migrants

Since 2014, the government has covertly introduced further policies that compromise the integrity and principles of the NHS”, Sonia Adesara, a sexual health doctor and Chair of the Young Medical Women International Association, wrote in a news article on the website

“In January this year, it was revealed by BuzzFeed that the Home Office is using private NHS data to find and track migrants. General Practitioners were not aware that this was occurring.”

Since this has become known, there has been an outrage among individual health professionals as well as their professional associations. Sharing of data with the goverment is a clear breach of the principle of confidentiality and it undermines the trust that is vital to the doctor-patient relationship. There is also a considerable public health risk. Adesara: “When those on our streets are unable to access healthcare, we risk breakouts in communicable diseases such as TB and hepatitis.”

Extending ID checks to community settings

The latest news is that the UK government is planning to extend ID checks and charging into community settings – to every organisation that receives NHS funding. This includes public health services, mental health charities, school nursing, community midwifery, and drug and alcohol services.

“What this will do is deter the most vulnerable and marginalised from assessing care, with potentially fatal consequence”, Sonia Adesara writes.

“The NHS should never be home to discrimination and racial profiling. Access to healthcare is a human right. We have to question the humanity of our society when we restrict access to those that are most vulnerable and marginalised.”

Letter-writing campaign

In the past week, Doctors of the World collected signatures for an open letter addressed to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Among others, the letter states: “We are also concerned these regulations run the strong risk that healthcare, including lifesaving care, will be withheld from those unable to prove their entitlement to free NHS treatment or able to pay up-front. We are
already beginning to see patients living in the UK being wrongly denied lifesaving care such as urgent surgery or cancer treatment because they cannot pay. ”

Main source: web article The government’s anti-migrant NHS policies are leaving people without access to healthcare, Sonia Adesara, 6 October 2017


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