Failed asylum seekers being denied right to free NHS care

Failed asylum seekers are still being denied healthcare, including maternity services, despite a recent court case upholding their rights, a parliamentary committee heard last week.

Charities, researchers and doctors told a conference of the joint committee on human rights that the Department of Health had failed to communicate adequately the entitlement to free care, leading to treatment being denied or questioned for people with serious health problems including brain tumours and HIV.

In April 2004, the Department of Health changed its regulations to remove failed asylum-seekers’ right to free hospital care, apart from for emergency care and sexually transmitted and certain infectious diseases, excluding ongoing treatment for HIV/Aids.

The DH and the Home Office are considering extending charges to primary care, as part of an ongoing review governing NHS access for foreign nationals.

However, in April this year, the High Court ruled that thousands of failed asylum seekers who cannot return to their home countries are entitled to free treatment through the NHS.

Dr Angela Burnett, from the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, said there was huge confusion about entitlement to free care and called for the DH to issue clear guidance. She said “a much more vigorous approach” to communicating the court’s decision was required.

Dr Jane Anderson, an HIV specialist from Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, told the committee HIV should be reclassified as an infectious disease, so everyone received treatment.

Georgie Kane from Medecins du Monde UK, which has an east London clinic that has worked with thousands of migrants, said lots of pregnant women are still being refused maternity care, partly because the majority are not registered with a GP, and partly because of prejudice from hospital officials.

The issues raised at the conference will be submitted by the committee as a formal response to the DH and Home Office review.

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