Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Essay

Why asylum seekers deserve better healthcare, and how we can give it to them

BMJ 2022; 376 doi: (Published 06 January 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;376:n3069
  1. Olivia Farrant, centenary research fellow1,
  2. Sarah Eisen, consultant paediatrician12,
  3. Chris van Tulleken, honorary associate professor12,
  4. Allison Ward, consultant community paediatrician134,
  5. Nicky Longley, consultant in infectious diseases and travel medicine15
  1. 1Hospital for Tropical Diseases, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  2. 2University College London, London, UK
  3. 3Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  4. 4Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  5. 5London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to: O Farrant

Many asylum seekers in the UK find themselves in a purgatory of paperwork that leaves a total absence of healthcare. Olivia Farrant and colleagues explain how, in the depths of the pandemic, a model response was born

In August 2020, Kirsteen McDonagh met a young family staying at an address that seemed strange. The family had only recently migrated to the United Kingdom and had been housed in student accommodation in central London. It was, the family explained, “contingency accommodation” in which they had been placed by the Home Office while they waited for their asylum claim to be processed. This was the first case of hundreds that McDonagh, a specialist health visitor for homeless families, employed by Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, would encounter.1

The crisis in Afghanistan has again brought migration into the international spotlight. Refugee migration to the UK shows little sign of diminishing, and the problem of how to best look after asylum seekers is becoming acute. Many new arrivals have complex health needs for which current NHS healthcare systems struggle to offer appropriate care, exacerbating the trauma already experienced by many of these vulnerable people and families.

In June 2021, key recommendations were published by the Safeguarding Adults National Network in relation to the health and wellbeing of people seeking asylum.2 The current ability of local health services to meet the complex needs of asylum seekers is variable; many pockets of good practice exist across the country, but many areas have struggled to respond to the demands of meeting these complex healthcare responsibilities. An asylum seeker is a person who seeks protection from persecution and serious human rights violations in another country, but who hasn’t yet been legally recognised as a refugee and is waiting to receive a decision on …

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