The Tories are trying to use the NHS as a back-door vehicle for deportations. Socialist Worker has seen two examples of how it works—and there are likely to be more.
GP Jackie Applebee is a local medical committee (LMC) rep and health campaigner in Tower Hamlets, east London.
She told Socialist Worker how an east London practice had received a fax from the Home Office’s immigration department in April. “It was asking them to confirm if these two people lived at an address,” she said.
Barts Health NHS Trust—East London’s biggest hospitals trust—has admitted it is making up to 100 enquiries a week to the Home Office about patients.
This means passing patients’ “demographic information”—name, date of birth and address—to immigration officials.
The Home Office could then use it to track down migrants it’s trying to kick out of Britain.
“This is just another way that we’re seeing the Tories’ hostile environment for migrants in the NHS,” she told Socialist Worker.
“Doctors should not be border guards—and this feeds into deportations.”
Barts was part of a pilot scheme of 20 trusts who were checking patients’ passports. Many migrants from outside the European Union are not entitled to free health care under the Tories’ racist immigration rules.
The three-month pilot ended in October 2017—but Barts has said that it is continuing the practice.
By making migrants fearful of using the NHS, it will mean that they don’t go to hospital for the care they need.
“We shouldn’t be passing on any details,” said Jackie.
“We build our relationships with patients based on trust and that will break down if people fear being deported.”
The scandal at Barts is part of a wider pattern of the Home Office trying to get around its U-turn over access to patient information.
The Home Office and NHS Digital had a “Memorandum of Understanding” until the Tories were forced to perform a U-turn in May. The memorandum meant immigration officials could access records of people they were trying to deport.
But the U-turn included a vaguely-worded get-out clause that said the Home Office could still seek information—which means data collection effectively continues.
And, in the case of Barts, the Home Office can cast its net even wider.
If Barts passes on demographic information to check a patients’ free care eligibility, there’s nothing to stop the Home Office using it for deportations.
“They prey on people’s ignorance,” Jackie said. “If a GP practice receives a letter from the Home Office, it can be intimidating. My duty as an LMC rep is to say, no you do not have to comply with this sort of thing.”
After seeking Jackie’s advice as the LMC rep, the practice didn’t pass on the details to the Home Office. “But I know of practices in other areas that have responded with the information,” she said.
Charging migrants for care undermines the NHS and is a stepping stone towards charging everybody for care. And the figures at Barts show that Tories’ talk of “health tourism” and migrants draining NHS resources is a racist lie.
Of 8,900 patients checked during the pilot, only 50 were found liable to pay.
Health campaigners across east London have launched an open letter ahead of the trust board’s AGM on 11 September.
It demands the trust stop asking patients for ID, suspends upfront charging and stops collaborating with the Tories’ racist “hostile environment”.
Unions across the health service need to commit to non-compliance with any checks and to support workers who refuse to carry it out.
As Jackie said, “We should treat everybody—and I would treat everybody.”