The Department of Health have increasingly restricted the rights of migrants to health care. They are now planning to completely abolish access for allegedly failed asylum seekers and other marginalised groups to a GP on the NHS.
This would pose serious risks for these patients, for the public health and for medical practice.
Patients: Many supposedly failed asylum seekers simply can not “go home” or would be in extreme danger if they did so. They are forbidden to work in the UK, can not pay for care and are particularly prone to diseases of poverty. Many have illnesses which, if diagnosed early by GPs, are readily treatable; neglected, these become much more severe, difficult and expensive to treat.
Other asylum seekers, who still have NHS rights, would be discouraged from accessing health care.
Public health: Most of the gains in wellbeing over the past century are the result of solidarity, based on the recognition that the illness of one person can be a risk to all. This is particularly true of TB, HIV and other infectious diseases.
Although the new regulations may contain provisions which purport to allow treatment of such conditions, these are likely to be meaningless. Without a GP, who would make the diagnosis? The result is likely to be an increase in the incidence of communicable diseases in the population as a whole.
Doctors: The first duty of a doctor is to people who are (or may be) ill.
Requiring GPs or their receptionists to act as agents of the Home Office will create extreme ethical dilemmas. Doctors should not be forced to choose between violating our professional ethics and breaking the law. Unfortunately, that is precisely the situation we will face.
Although we may be unable to stop these dangerous proposals, we can at least ensure that the consequences are widely known.
What can you do?
1) Sign this petition.
2) Insist on the rights of patients to see you. Even if you are prohibited from referring or prescribing for them, you can not be forbidden to examine and advise them and document their medical problems.
3) Download the form “Documenting Medical Neglect” from www.medicaljustice.org.uk. If “failed” asylum seekers are denied rights to NHS primary care, use it to summarise harms to individual patients. Send it to the Health Minister, the press and your MP.
We are disturbed by previous government decisions which have removed the right to most forms of hospital care from refused asylum seekers and visitors to the UK.
We are appalled by government plans to further restrict the rights of such people to primary care. This would impose serious health risks on them and on the general public. It would also interfere with our ability to carry out our duties as doctors.
It is not in keeping with the ethics of our profession to refuse to see any person who may be ill, particularly pregnant women with complications, sick children or men crippled by torture. No one would want such a doctor for their GP.
We call on the government to retreat from this foolish proposal, which would prevent doctors from investigating, prescribing for, or referring such patients on the NHS.
We pledge that, in the event this regulation comes into effect, we will:
a) Continue to see and examine asylum seekers and to advise them about their health needs, whatever their immigration status.
b) Document their diagnoses and required clinical care.
c) (With suitable anonymisation and consent) copy this documentation to the responsible ministers, MPs and the press.
d) Inform the public of the human costs, to harness popular disgust at what is being ordered by the government in their name.
e) Campaign to speedily reverse these ill-advised policies.