New regulations have come into force which legally require the NHS to charge certain groups of migrants for accessing healthcare services.
Treatment which a clinician considers to be immediately necessary or urgent will be provided to everyone, but charges will be pursued after the treatment is provided where the person is liable.
Certain groups will be exempt from the charges, including:
- People who have refugee status, humanitarian protection, or temporary protection
- Asylum seekers whose claims (including appeals) have not yet been determined
- Refused asylum seekers receiving support Section 4 or Section 21 support from a local authority
- Children who are looked after by a local authority
- People in detention
While we welcome the exemption of asylum seekers, refugees and victims of trafficking from the charging, we know from experience that this will not be enough to guarantee their access to vital healthcare services.
Due to misinformation and anxiety, some people who are entitled will not seek healthcare even when in need because they may not realise their entitlement or for fear of the authorities.
What’s more, the exempt groups will have a range of different documents to evidence their status; some refugees have to wait many months for any documents at all and there is a risk that they could be wrongly refused NHS care.
These changes are particularly concerning as some groups, such as refused asylum seekers receiving no support, will be liable to pay money they simply don’t have or they will be unable to access healthcare.
Many refused asylum seekers are wrongly denied asylum support, due to the demanding level of evidence applicants are required to produce in support of their applications.
These changes make it yet more difficult for refused asylum seekers to be supported, as one of the reasons people can apply for Section 4 support is on health grounds. Cutting off people from accessing health services could mean they are unable to access the evidence they need to make their Section 4 claim. This could leave vulnerable people destitute, street homeless and unable to escape domestic violence.
Even if someone is successful in their application for Section 4 support, it can take many weeks to process their claim. During this time, it will be difficult if not impossible for refused asylum seekers to demonstrate to medical staff that they are eligible for treatment.
Refugee Council Head of Advocacy Lisa Doyle said: “While we welcome the efforts to ensure that refugees and certain groups of asylum seekers are not required to pay for accessing NHS services, we have real concerns about people’s ability to access the services they are entitled to.
“We are particularly concerned about those who have been refused asylum and are not receiving any support. These people are already living in extremely precarious circumstances, and it’s deeply disturbing to think that they will now be effectively denied the chance to access vital healthcare services.
“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.”