Editorials

Treating failed asylum seekers in the NHS

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b1614 (Published 01 May 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1614
  1. Christopher Newdick, professor of health law
  1. 1University of Reading, Reading RG6 7BA
  1. c.newdick{at}reading.ac.uk

    Is humane, but puts pressure on finite resources

    The recent Court of Appeal judgment on the Palestinian asylum seeker identified as YA raises difficult questions about the rights of failed asylum seekers to free NHS care.1 Asylum claims often involve appalling human tragedy and claimants may need medical treatment. Every doctor’s instinct will be to cater for their needs.2 And there are good public health reasons for doing so to protect the wider community. However, the NHS Act 2006 restricts free care to those who are “ordinarily resident” here.3 If treatment is refused, the consequences can be dire. Last year, University College Hospital, Cardiff, refused long term treatment to Ama Sumani, a Ghanaian woman with multiple myeloma. Once her condition had stabilised, she was returned home where limited treatment was available. There was understandable outrage when she died two months later.4

    But this is not just about single cases. The NHS cannot provide an international service and a balance exists between common humanity and the duty of solidarity to NHS patients. In 2005, the National Audit Office estimated that about 283 000 failed asylum seekers were living in the United Kingdom.5 …

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