Failed asylum seekers in Wales will be eligible for free NHS hospital treatment, the Welsh Assembly has decided.
The move signals a departure from the position of the UK government, which believes this group of people should pay for NHS care and is challenging a recent High Court ruling that would allow failed asylum seekers who cannot return home free treatment.
Welsh health and social services minister Edwina Hart consulted church leaders in Wales on the policy move, and said it was “the right thing to do”.
A Welsh Assembly spokesperson said: “The minister believes that the mark of a civilised society is the way in which it treats all of its people, particularly the sick and the dying.”
The Welsh Refugee Council welcomed the decision. Anna Nicholl, director of policy and communications, said:
“This gives a clear message that all people in Wales should be treated with a basic level of humanity and will be applauded by the wide coalition of groups who have been campaigning for these changes.
“The previous system of charging vulnerable people – many of whom are destitute – for healthcare was inhumane, resulting in unacceptable levels of suffering and hardship among some of the most vulnerable people in society.”
The Department of Health said it did not agree with the High Court ruling last month, where a failed Palestinian asylum seeker with chronic liver disease argued that he should be treated. The DH argued it “was not reasonable” to expect the NHS to provide free treatment to failed asylum seekers. The government is also planning to introduce charging for primary healthcare for asylum seekers.