People who attended our annual conference earlier this month will remember Estelle Worthington introducing the #PatientsNotPassports campaign that Asylum Matters and Doctors of the World have just launched.
Below is a little bit more information about the regulations (taken from the Asylum Matters briefing), and the reasoning for our endorsement of the campaign to halt the regulations.
Over the summer, the Government proposed to amend a set of rules, known as the ‘NHS Charging Regulations,’ which govern how people access healthcare in England and when they have to pay for it.
Asylum Matters explains that ‘the most recent changes include firstly an extension of healthcare charges to community care settings – which are often commissioned specifically to reach marginalised communities and individuals. Secondly, they include an obligation to check every patient’s paperwork to identify who is eligible for free care and charge up-front those who are not, refusing non-urgent care where a patient cannot pay.‘
The impact of the regulations could include:
- More vulnerable people deterred from accessing treatment, even where the current regime allows them to access free care, such as for refugees and asylum-seekers;
- Confusion and chaos around eligibility for free healthcare;
- Essential services removed from hard-to-reach communities;
- An increase in health inequalities among the general population;
- Preventive care programmes which protect us all will be undermined, putting public health at risk;
- Increase in patient waiting times due to additional administrative burden of checking eligibility for free care;
- Increased cost to the NHS, as it’s likely the charging scheme will cost more to administer than any potential savings;
- Doctors forced to act as border guards, preventing them from working ethically and humanely;
- Risks of both a huge administrative burden (frustrating for patients and staff alike) and patients being singled out for eligibility checks (leading to racial profiling and discrimination).
- A further departure from the founding vision of the NHS which guaranteed universal access based on need not ability to pay.
These regulations have been laid before Parliament and will become law without debate unless there is an objection from either House.
As such, there is an open letter to Jeremy Hunt which organisations are being encouraged to sign: please see here for the letter in full, and here for details of how to endorse it. You can also contact your MP directly to ask them to challenge the regulations, by adapting this template letter.
Other ways of supporting the campaign include spreading the word via social media using #PatientsNotPassports.
At NACCOM, in our work resourcing, supporting and advocating on behalf of projects across the UK that accommodate asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants, we feel strongly that access to healthcare is an essential right that needs to be upheld.
In our network survey this year (details of which can be found in our annual report), members were asked to record changes in health and wellbeing of their service users. Of those who were able to provide this information about the people they have supported over the last year, 57% reported seeing mental health problems increase, and 50% reported seeing physical health problems increase.
These figures reflect both the personal trauma that the process of seeking (and in the case of many service users, being refused) asylum can cause, as well as the hidden impact that destitution already has on wider services and communities.
The changes outlined in these regulations, such as demanding upfront payments and various forms of identification, are highly likely to reduce healthcare access amongst the people our members support.
The impact of this would be significant, both to service users and wider society, and so we join with others in calling for the regulations to be withdrawn.