Today the Immigration Bill is having its second reading in Parliament. This has coincided with much discussion about migrants’ access to NHS services, with plans being put in place to charge certain groups for primary healthcare.
Such plans will be counterproductive, costly and will increase health inequalities.
The Refugee Council is extremely concerned that the proposals will lead to some of the most vulnerable people in British being deterred from accessing or being wrongly refused essential care.
Although asylum seekers and refugees will be exempt from the charges, we know such exemptions will not be sufficient to guarantee access to healthcare. Asylum seekers and refugees already experience significant barriers to NHS care despite being entitled to free treatment.
Chief Executive of the Refugee Council Maurice Wren said: “These plans threaten to put already persecuted people at even greater risks. If these proposals are enacted, the human and financial costs will be profound.”
Under the proposals, refused asylum seekers who are not in receipt of any asylum support would be charged for accessing primary healthcare.
We believe that all asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers should receive free healthcare on the basis of need until they receive permission to remain in the UK, or return to their country of origin.
Denying access to early, preventative care to a group not able to pay, not only results in significant human cost, it also results in costly and unnecessary emergency treatment.
Maurice Wren said: “Charging refused asylum seekers for primary NHS healthcare is unethical, uneconomical and impractical.
“As all of the evidence shows, the Government consistently wrongly denies people asylum and asylum support. Now it’s looking to deny them essential healthcare too.”
Read our response to the Department of Health’s consultation on migrant access to the NHS here.