Socialist Worker

Racist rules refuse NHS care to thousands of people due to their immigration status

Cruel immigration checks are putting vulnerable people off seeking the health care they need, writes Dave Sewell

Issue No. 2550

Marchers on the NHS protest in London earlier this year opposed racist scapegoating for the health crisis

Marchers on the NHS protest in London earlier this year opposed racist scapegoating for the health crisis (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Thousands of people are already being deprived of health care as a result of their immigration status, Socialist Worker can reveal.

As part of an ongoing investigation, we sent Freedom of Information requests to NHS trusts across Britain.

We asked about the checks they carry out on people to determine if they are eligible for free NHS care.

Some trusts are already checking identification and asking patients for thousands of pounds if they don’t have the “right” immigration status (see below).

Heart of England trust in the Midlands said that around 10 percent of people declined treatment when asked to pay.

That’s 79 of the 805 people it checked last year.

At Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust the proportion was higher. Of the 42 people it found ineligible for free care, just 13 went on to receive care.

Many health workers are horrified. So helpfully the government has had a short video made to reassure them, which Great Western Trust said it had sent to all consultants.

In it Sir Keith Pearson, chair of Health Education England, says the NHS is “a national health service, not an international health service”. The narrator claims that “clinicians aren’t being asked to be border guards”.


But hospitals do share the data they collect with the Home Office in order to check patients’ eligibility. Those who can’t pay are under even more scrutiny—Sunderland NHS trust said “non-payment is flagged to Border Control”.

At the moment it’s a lottery which policies any given NHS trust implements. The government wants to bring them all to the level of the most stringent.

Pennine Care trust insisted, “We do not check nor discriminate in relation to a person’s nationality or ethnicity at the point of contact with our services.”

At the other extreme Royal Surrey “have been requesting proof of Ordinary Residence for the past 12 years”.

Many trusts said they were waiting for government guidance on the new system. But even before Theresa May called a general election this had been delayed until July.

The Department of Health told Socialist Worker, “We’re making sure everyone knows their obligations, making sure the system is in place.”

In order to find those not eligible for care without breaching discrimination laws, hospitals will have to ask every patient questions about their eligibility.

This will add to the burden on the NHS. It’s essential to resist this racist attack on universal NHS care.

GP surgeries wrongly turn away asylum seekers

GP surgeries are turning away asylum seekers and migrants who can’t provide documents—even though they legally have the right to register.

Doctors of the World is a charity that supports migrants accessing NHS services.

Some 22 percent of the 1,758 people it worked with last year had been wrongly turned away from GPs.

Programme manager Phil Murwille told Socialist Worker, “People are not getting the healthcare they need. That makes things worse for them, and it can make their conditions more complicated to treat later.”

Some 11 percent of the charity’s clients avoided going to hospital or a doctor for fear of being arrested—something that further checks will make worse.

Phil said, “We work with a lot of domestic workers who’ve overstayed their visas, people who’ve been in exploitative situations.

“They’re wary about approaching the authorities.

“All the doctors we speak to just want to see their patients and treat them.

“Being with a doctor is a ‘safe space’ that needs to be preserved, and that’s being eroded as people have their documents checked. The result will be a population of people who are afraid of going to a doctor.”

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