Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Covid-19: testing and tracing

Covid-19: Contact tracing requires ending the hostile environment

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: (Published 31 March 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m1320
  1. Greg Dropkin, retired NHS administration worker
  1. Liverpool Community Health and Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, Liverpool, UK
  1. gregd{at}

For contact tracing to be viable, all sections of the community must be willing to be contacted by the NHS or public health staff.1 The community includes “overseas visitors” on the receiving end of the government’s “hostile environment” policy,2 who might fear that any contact will incur NHS charges or lead to their being reported to the Home Office.

Unlike the UK, the Irish government has declared that all people—documented or undocumented—can now access healthcare and social services without fear.3 Undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers in Portugal have been granted the same rights as residents, including access to medical care, in the current state of emergency.4 In South Korea, undocumented immigrants can be tested without risk of deportation.5

It is simply not good enough for the UK to add the novel coronavirus to its list of exemptions from charges,6 which few people will know. To tackle this epidemic and protect everyone’s health, all barriers to accessing NHS treatment—including charges and reporting of debt to the Home Office—should be suspended immediately.


  • Competing interests: I am a member of Keep Our NHS Public.


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