FOR FIVE days last week the Sun ran a series of articles about ‘the biggest crisis facing Britain today’. Was it about pensions? The impact of tuition fees? The threat of unemployment? No. The Sun targeted asylum seekers.
Its refugee-bashing spree repeated every myth about migrants. It included the lie that people are pouring into Britain to get free healthcare. ‘Illegal immigrants are placing an intolerable strain on our limited NHS resources,’ its editorial claimed. It described ‘health tourists flocking to Britain’.
It also said, ‘Immigrants are spreading diseases like HIV and TB,’ and warned, ‘This is a time bomb ticking in our midst which must be defused.’ The Sun has eagerly fed the growing racist scapegoating of immigrants and refugees. Even the police have joined in with their latest UK Threat Assessment report by the National Criminal Intelligence Service. It claims migrants are ‘attracted’ to Britain by ‘access to healthcare’.
Bosses at Newham General Hospital in east London last week also joined in. A leaked internal report blamed ‘illegal immigrants’ for causing a budget overspend because they were treated at the hospital. ‘The overseas patients are aware of the NHS culture and are extremely cunning in their tactics,’ said the report.
This attack was so filthy even Newham Healthcare Trust’s chief executive Kathy Watkins tried to distance the trust from the report, saying, ‘We are concerned about its language and it is to be rewritten. ‘The report was an early draft which had not been seen by the management team.’ Lack of funding
Hospitals across Britain are debt-ridden not because of refugees, but from lack of funding. Newham has the highest vacancy rate for registered nurses in London. Are refugees to blame for that, or are shortages down to the long hours and low pay nurses are forced to work?
Tory and now New Labour governments have ensured hospital after hospital has closed around Britain and created the chronic shortage of doctors and nurses. To say immigrants who need healthcare are responsible is like blaming the elderly for the crisis in nursing homes. Refugees coming to Britain are fleeing war and persecution. Some who arrive in Britain end up needing healthcare.
They are a minority. Yet the Tories, backed up by the right wing press, want to prevent this vulnerable group of people from having the treatment they need. Dr Edwin Borman, a consultant anaesthetist, is one of the many health experts who are angry at the press scapegoating. He told Socialist Worker, ‘To pick on one particular group and demonise them is irresponsible. I’m very disappointed in some politicians who ought to know better. British people have illnesses too! The refugee and asylum seeker population are amongst the most deprived and devastated in this country. ‘It shouldn’t be about scoring some cheap political points when there is a clear need to address their problems.’
Elizabeth Anionwu, head of the Mary Seacole centre for nursing practice at Thames Valley University, said, ‘Like many other people I get very hot under the collar when people start talking about ethnic groups ‘bringing disease’ into this country. ‘It is not because of their background that certain groups of the population are sicker. It’s because of language issues, institutional racism within the health service or a lack of awareness of services.’
WHY DON’T the media highlight the benefit that immigrants and refugees could be to the NHS? It takes around ten years and £250,000 to train a doctor in Britain from scratch. It would take just a year and £15,000 to refresh the skills of the 3,000 refugee doctors in Britain.
Many of them live in inner city areas where there are acute shortages. Dr Edwin Borman chairs the BMA’s international committee and is involved in a project to help refugee doctors get trained for work. ‘The project is being extended to refugee nurses, dentists and other healthcare professionals,’ he explained. ‘There are major shortages. These people’s skills should be applied for their own benefit and for the betterment of society as a whole. I was an economic migrant from South Africa. I had a choice of sorts-to stay and face the prison or the army, or leave the country. So I chose to come here 17 years ago and have been a consultant for seven years. What is happening with the media today has not been seen since the 1930s demonising of Jews from Germany. The media doesn’t seem to have learned any lessons. These people could contribute in a way that Jews have.’
The Sun’s ‘special investigation into immigration’ last week did not expose the appalling treatment some foreign nurses suffer in Britain. Sophie Taylor, a Unison member involved with the Overseas Nurses Network, described the experiences of some working in private care homes. The nurses work long hours for low rates of pay and are often housed in dire conditions.
One woman from Malawi had her possessions and passport confiscated after she told her employer she wanted to leave.
REFUGEES DO not get preferential treatment on the NHS, as the Sun claims. The British Medical Association reports, ‘Healthcare for asylum seekers is at best patchy, belated and often inappropriate.’ It has compiled a dossier of cases from healthcare professionals of how refugees are suffering from lack of effective care.
Many of the cases include babies and young children. For example: ‘I saw a baby with a terrible skin condition. His body was covered in sores, which were oozing. ‘The family was constantly uprooted from one hostel to another. Because of this no GP/specialist was looking after him.’
Another reported, ‘She had come to Accident and Emergency because she was scared that she might be pregnant. She had fled her country two weeks previously. Soldiers had attacked her home. She had been multiply raped and fled for her life.’
In another case, ‘This mother and her tiny baby visited their GP because the mother has stomach problems. There was also concern about the baby’s failure to gain weight. During the consultation the GP established that the family, including the baby, were sleeping rough with no access to shelter, sanitation or food.’
Yet the Sun moans that such vulnerable people are getting any healthcare at all. New Labour’s policies over refugees constantly bend to the hysteria in the press. Yet its dispersal scheme ‘is increasing HIV risk’, according to a recent all-party parliamentary group’s report.
Dr Ade Fakaoya, a consultant in HIV and sexual health at Newham General Hospital, told the group about a patient he had treated. The refugee mother was HIV positive and New Labour’s dispersal policy meant she was forced out of London.
Dr Fakaoya said the woman could have been given drugs to reduce the risk of passing on HIV to her child if she had remained in London. But by the time doctors managed to track her down she had already given birth and the child was also HIV positive.
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