The government has published its consultation on proposed changes to the system for charging for secondary healthcare (hospital treatment). As things currently stand, an asylum seeker whose claim has been refused, who has exhausted all appeal rights and who has not yet begun treatment in a hospital has to pay for it. This has led to harrowing cases of women giving birth at home, or people being denied treatment for cancer, because they are unable to pay.
The new charging regulations were introduced in 2004, and immediately came under intense opposition from charities and health professionals alike, as it became clear that the rules were tantamount to refusing some asylum seekers treatment for serious illnesses. The Refugee Council produced a report in 2006 containing dozens of cases of people who had been denied treatment and some of the consequences.
The Department of Health is now proposing to modify the regulations to exclude asylum seekers whose claims have been refused but who are on Section 4 or Section 95 support. They also recognise that refused asylum seekers are unlikely to be able to pay for treatment, particularly if it is costly, therefore debts may be written off. They have also changed the rules so that unaccompanied children, previously included in the charging regulations, are exempt.
Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:
“We are very pleased the government is finally reconsidering the way it charges asylum seekers for healthcare, following a six year ongoing campaign from refugee organisations and health professionals. It cannot be right to deny vulnerable asylum seekers life saving treatment simply because they are unable to pay for it, and we hope that this proposed change will offer extra protection to those who are very sick and vulnerable.
“As the consultation period could conclude after the election has taken place, we hope that all political parties see the sense in this change and will commit to implementing it.
“However, we remain concerned that a charging regime for refused asylum seekers still exists at all. Almost all asylum seekers arrive in the UK with nothing, and a great many of those who are refused but who can’t go home straight away end up homeless and destitute. To refuse treatment to those people simply because they cannot pay for it is appalling and inhumane.”
The consultation can be downloaded here and we are urging everyone who is interested to respond. The Refugee Council’s response will be available on the website as soon as possible.