“Pregnant women need to see a midwife, children need vaccinations and people with chronic conditions need a GP. Policies that prevent people from accessing NHS services just cause more problems in the long term,” said Dr Katherine Taylor, a GP and health adviser to Doctors of the World.
Asylum seekers who need NHS care have been left in “considerable fear” because of the government’s “hostile environment” policies, according to the human rights watchdog.
In a highly critical report the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says people have gone without medical help since ministers forced the NHS in England to impose upfront charges to access care last year.
“Everyone should have access to good-quality healthcare, regardless of who they are and where they come from,” said Rebecca Hilsenrath, the watchdog’s chief executive. “People seeking and refused asylum are likely to have particular health needs because of past distressing experiences and the traumatic effects of fleeing to a different country. It’s therefore crucial that they are able to fully and easily access healthcare and that their rights are protected by keeping healthcare separate from immigration enforcement. This is just about common humanity,” she added.
Pregnant and disabled asylum seekers, in particular, have been unable to get treatment, or have been too scared to seek it, as a direct consequence of both the charges and also fears that their data would be shared with the Home Office. Doctors of the World, found that the NHS charging regulations and duty on it to share data with the Home Office constituted “important barriers” to asylum seekers requesting healthcare. In addition, asylum seekers’ poverty means they often cannot afford to get to healthcare appointments or pay for prescriptions, it found.