High Court sees sense and gives asylum seekers NHS care - Refugee Council
April 14, 2008

High Court sees sense and gives asylum seekers NHS care

By Jane – Campaigns and Public Affairs Team

The weekend papers are full of stories about Friday’s High Court ruling that failed asylum seekers should be able to receive free healthcare under the NHS whilst they are waiting to return to their home countries.

A Palestinian asylum seeker in need of treatment for chronic liver disease brought the case against the Department of Health.  The judge said that many, even all, failed asylum seekers and refugees were “penniless”, and ruled that the hospital had an obligation of care.

It’s fascinating to see how the same story can be written so differently in different papers.  “Asylum rejects get free NHS” fumes the Sun.  The Daily Mail is equally unimpressed, complaining that “now the failed asylum seeker we can’t deport is given free NHS”. 

But these papers fail to see the inhumane alternative – that people who cannot leave the country (often because it is unsafe for them to do so, they do not have the right papers, or their countries will not accept them) would be denied health care.  It is often said that the test of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. Who could be more vulnerable than someone fleeing their country, seeking asylum, and in need of health care?

Luckily other papers are more rational in their approach.  The Guardian quotes the Terrence Higgins Trust who point out that this will mean that asylum seekers who need HIV treatment will now be able to access it which will reduce the chance of the virus being passed on, having a positive effect on public health.  Medact, the global health charity led by health professionals, rightly points out that responsibility for immigration lies with the Border and Immigration Agency and not with doctors and nurses or the NHS.

Here at the Refugee Council we welcome the judgement.  We have seen devastating cases of people being refused health care including pregnant mothers being forced to give birth at home and victims of rape being denied treatment.  The Department of Health can now appeal the decision but hopefully they will take a more humane, civilised decision and allow people access to health care they need.

You can read more here.