37-week wait for UK migrants needing NHS care, research says


Professor Jonathan Van-Tam Covid-19 Public Data Briefing 12 October 2020

Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street

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Comments by Sanwar Ali:

Migrants are typically having to pay for health care twice.  They pay through taxes.  They also have to pay the immigration health surcharge that is increasing from £400 a year, which is already high, to an even higher amount of £624 a year from 27 October 2020.  It seems that a number of migrants are not receiving the level of access to treatment that they need.

According to new research, seen by The Guardian, UK migrants face an average wait time of 37 weeks to receive NHS care. Despite many migrants paying a controversial UK Immigration Health Surcharge, they are denied access to treatment for more than nine months, according to the research.

The research also revealed that one hospital charged a destitute anti-FGM campaigner with a brain tumour £8,397 for initial treatment. According to the study, one in three UK migrants face wait times of six to 12 months, despite suffering from life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and kidney failure.

In some cases, migrants are forced to wait even longer, with one woman suffering from a serious heart condition claiming that she had to wait more than four years for access to NHS care, according to the research.

Refugees and asylum seekers hit hardest

The report found that refugees and asylum seekers are hit hardest by a lack of NHS care, which is considered in breach of the rules because they are deemed ‘not ordinarily resident’ in Britain under the government’s hostile UK immigration policy.

According to the charity Doctors of the World, delays to NHS care are just one week shorter on average for those suffering from what the government describes as ‘urgent or immediately actionable’ illnesses that require treatment.

The research found that despite the serious nature of their conditions, many migrants are made to wait an average of 36 weeks, following diagnosis, before they receive treatment. In one case, urgent care was withheld for two and half years, according to the research.

The findings of the research are detailed in the first audit of delays faced by 27 UK migrants seeking NHS care between 2018 and 2020 and fighting for their right to receive it.

Anna Miller, head of policy and advocacy at Doctors of the World, which provides healthcare to people who cannot access the NHS, said: “These long delays involved a protracted period of all-consuming extreme uncertainty, and anxiety and distress for patients with cancer, kidney failure and heart problems, who end up in a state of horrendous limbo.”

18-week waiting time

Waiting times faced by UK migrants are more than double the 18-week average within which people in England should receive NHS treatment. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, 80% of people were treated within the 18-week timeframe.

The research has now sparked fresh calls for the government to scrap its controversial policy, introduced in 2017, which forces migrants to pay 150% of the cost of normal NHS care upfront before they are entitled to it, despite those desperately needing treatment being penniless.

The policy of charging people upfront for potentially life-saving treatment has been questioned by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and a number of top health organisations, including the British Medical Association (BMA), the Faculty of Public Health and the Royal College of Emergency Medicine.

Chair of the BMA, Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, said: “It’s alarming and disturbing that this report highlights the scale of delays and obstruction to urgent care facing migrants who are seeking asylum in our nation, including those who are entitled to free NHS care.”

“Safeguards must be in place to protect people in vulnerable situations from inhumane delays to treatment, as well as ensuring that those who need immediate treatment aren’t deterred from seeking it,” Dr. Nagpaul added.

Anti-FGM campaigner from Gambia

Amid the huge waiting times faced by UK migrants for NHS care, the audit also uncovered the case of anti-female genital mutilation (FGM) campaigner, Saloum, who was destitute and homeless. Saloum was told by the Royal Derby hospital that he would need to pay upfront for palliative chemotherapy on two brain tumours and lung cancer.

The hospital also handed Saloum a bill for £8,397 after they provided initial care when he collapsed and fell unconscious.

Saloum, who had fled Gambia fearing political persecution, died in April 2019. At the time, a spokesman for the University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS foundation trust said: “The trust is unable to offer any comment on the care of individual patients due to confidentiality laws.”

According to the new audit, all but one of the 27 migrants featured were destitute and had no source of income.

The audit states: “The NHS charging policy is being applied to destitute individuals with no realistic prospects of being able to pay for the NHS services they receive. It raises questions about the cost effectiveness of the current policy as NHS staff time used for charging and pursuing destitute individuals for NHS services is likely to be a waste of resources.”

Anna Miller said: “Migrants needing healthcare struggle to understand why one day a doctor tells them that their treatment is urgent and needs to start tomorrow and the next day they receive a letter from the hospital’s overseas visitors office seeking many, many thousands of pounds upfront, which obviously being destitute they can’t do.”

Hospital administrative mistakes

According to the research, care was delayed in six cases due to a series of hospital administrative errors, with many eligible for free care deemed to be, incorrectly, ineligible.

Meanwhile, a further 16 migrants were understood to have mistakenly been denied ‘urgent and immediately necessary care because NHS trusts applied the rules incorrectly on when someone could be reasonably expected to leave the UK and gave care elsewhere, according to the audit.

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