No health safety net for failed asylum seekers and others in UK

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.333.7561.259 (Published 27 July 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:259
  1. Karen A McColl (karen.mccoll{at}medecinsdumonde.org.uk), Director
  1. Médecins du Monde UK, London E14 5AA

    EDITOR—Hall shows that current health rules, which deny some of the most vulnerable people in the United Kingdom essential medical care, flout international law.1 2 Evidence is mounting of the impact the tougher restrictions on NHS entitlement are having on vulnerable migrants living in the UK.

    Last month the Refugee Council published a report documenting 37 case studies of failed asylum seekers who were refused medical care that they needed.3 Médecins du Monde UK is also witnessing secondary care being denied to failed asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants through our healthcare initiative “Project: London.” The number of pregnant women who have been refused antenatal care, unless they pay the full amount for the care in advance, is growing. This approach puts these women and their babies at great risk and ignores government guidance, which clearly states that maternity services should not be withheld if the woman is unable to pay in advance.

    The women who came to “Project: London” or to the Refugee Council may represent a much larger group of women who do not know where to go for help. Such women, often vulnerable and afraid, may deliver their babies at home without any medical care. Médecins du Monde UK is most concerned about the potentially disastrous consequences for the health of these women and their babies.

    These restrictions on access to NHS care are labelled as charges for overseas visitors. In reality, they affect people who are living here, including failed asylum seekers, visa overstayers, and anyone without regular status. Unlike in some other European countries, no safety net is in place to ensure that children, pregnant women, or those without resources to pay for private care can have access to health care. We know through Médecins du Monde's work across Europe that the Netherlands, for example, has a special fund to finance the health care of undocumented migrants, and that Belgium, France, and Spain have special state health insurance.

    Hall is right to reiterate the NHS core principles and to underline that these restrictions on access to care constitute an abuse of a fundamental human right. A radical review of these unfair regulations cannot come soon enough.

    For more information about “Project: London” contact Médecins du Monde's press office (michelle.hawkins{at}medecinsdumonde.org.uk


    • Competing interests None declared.


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