Patients not passports: the Tories must stop restricting migrants’ access to healthcare

Some NHS funded charities will now be forced to turn vulnerable migrants away.

Immigration checks and upfront charges are to be introduced in certain NHS-funded services next month – including some charities – potentially depriving thousands of undocumented migrants and refused asylum seekers of crucial medical treatment. 

A demonstration on Saturday will oppose the move, which campaigners say is racist and will lead to further racial profiling and discrimination, targeting some of the most vulnerable people in society.

The extension of the scheme will affect NHS-funded charities like Marie Stopes and Mind, forcing them to turn patients away from abortion services and mental healthcare.

While the British government already charges undocumented migrants for many types of non-emergency NHS hospital care, this is the first time charges will be introduced for services provided by charities and community health organisations.

A wide range of health services will be affected such as school nursing, community midwifery, community mental health services, termination of pregnancy services, advocacy services, and specialist services for homeless people and asylum seekers.

Activists have questioned the rationale behind the move, pointing out that ‘health tourism’, the alleged exploitation of our medical services by people from other countries, is only estimated as costing the NHS 0.3% of it’s total budget, even by the government’s own statistics.

The move, campaigners say, simply marks the latest escalation of Theresa May’s hostile environment for migrants, which is already having devastating consequences.

Charity Doctors of the World runs drop in clinics in London where volunteers already help hundreds of people each year who are unable to access medical care because they do not qualify for free treatment, are too afraid of being reported to the Home Office if they seek help, or are confused by the complicated rules surrounding what is and isn’t funded and for who.

Almost 9 in 10 of their patients live in poverty, many are homeless, asylum seekers, or victims of torture or trafficking.

The charity said in a statement that it had “no doubt that the new rules will deter many of the people we help from accessing services they need”, adding that it was particularly concerned about the impact on mental health services.

Lucy Jones, who runs the organisation’s UK programmes, told the Independent:

“The human impact is likely to be huge. People who have experienced trauma and violence, such as victims of trafficking and exploitation, will no longer be able to access essential community services as they simply can’t afford them.

“The government is effectively making a whole host of community health workers into proxy border guards – from school nurses to charity workers to trauma counsellors. It’s a huge burden on people who just want to do their jobs, not carry out the Home Office’s work.”

Doctor’s of the World said it was particularly concerned about the loss of access to abortion services, which are often provided in the community and by charities.

“Many women who are excluded from free NHS care, such as sex workers and trafficking victims who are undocumented, have limited access to contraception,” a spokesperson said. “They are also at increased risk of sexual violence.”

Protesters will be marching against the new policy in London at 11.30 on Saturday.

Charlotte England is a freelance journalist and writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

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