Intended for healthcare professionals


Hunger strike renews concerns over health in UK detention centres

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: (Published 29 March 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:k1446
  1. Erin Dexter, medical student1,
  2. Cornelius Katona, medical director2
  1. 1University College London, London, UK
  2. 2Helen Bamber Foundation, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to: E Dexter dexter.rachel.15{at}

UK policy threatens the physical health, mental health, and human rights of detainees

On 21 February 2018, 120 women and men detained in Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire started a month’s hunger strike to protest against the conditions of their detention. Their demands included access to adequate healthcare (including mental healthcare) and an end to the policy of indefinite detention.1 Their actions provide a timely reminder of the UK medical community’s serious concerns about the health implications of detaining migrants.

The UK has one of the most extensive immigration detention systems in Europe, and is the only country within the European Union to have opted out of a 28 day limit on detention, meaning that people are held indefinitely. Although about 80% of those detained are held for less than two months, some are held for years.2 This uncertainty means life in detention is lived in limbo, in a state of constant anxiety about the future.

The …

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