Migrants and BAME communities excluded from healthcare during coronavirus

5 June 2020

Hostile Environment immigration policies contributing to disproportionate BAME deaths, according to our new report published today.

  • Migrant support workers report that 57% of migrants have avoided healthcare because of the government’s Hostile Environment policies
  • Only 20% of migrant caseworkers said that migrants are aware of the Covid-19 exemption, and only 9% say it’s reaching migrant communities in an accessible format.

The Government’s ‘Hostile Environment’ immigration policies are threatening migrant health and the UK’s Covid-19 response, according to new research by Medact, Migrants Organise and New Economics Foundation. The report documents numerous cases of migrants denied healthcare outright; or migrants not seeking care due to fear of government policies or racial profiling. 

One example, highlighted in a Channel 4 News piece, documents the case of a Black British man asked to prove his eligibility for free care whilst in a Covid-19 induced coma. In a letter sent to his family, the hospital demanded detailed evidence within seven days, warning that otherwise he would be charged for his treatment. Anyone undergoing Covid-19 treatment is entitled to free care and is supposed to be exempt from immigration status checks under the current laws.

Fear of the Hostile Environment is excluding people from healthcare

The case is just one of dozens highlighted in the report, which demonstrate the scale of fear and hostility experienced by migrants and BAME communities. Based on their survey of over 50 migrant support organisations across the UK, charities warn that migrants are being effectively excluded from healthcare during the coronavirus pandemic. The report suggests that these policies are contributory factors to the disproportionate number of BAME deaths from Covid-19.

Covid-19 safeguards aren’t working

In January 2020, the Government introduced an ‘exemption’ for Covid-19 from charging and immigration checks as part of their public health response to the pandemic. This new research shows that this exemption is not working. Only 20% of migrant caseworkers said that migrants are aware of the Covid-19 exemption. The minority that do know remain too fearful of charging or immigration enforcement to come forward, and still risk being charged for other conditions, or in the event of a negative Covid-19 test. 

The report reiterates demands that the government must suspend all NHS charging and data sharing practices with the Home Office, and begin a public information campaign to ensure everyone is aware that the NHS is safe and free for everyone to use.

Speaking anonymously, a family member of the affected man explained: 

“My father was asked to contact the hospital and provide information within seven days, at a time he was critically unwell, following 2 weeks in a coma due to Covid-19. How was he supposed to respond from his hospital bed? We believe there was clear racial profiling. My father is a British citizen who has lived and worked in the UK for more than 15 years, and asking him to validate his entitlement to free NHS care while he was seriously unwell and still in the hospital’s care is shocking.

The hospital’s explanation for why this happened is just not good enough. I am alarmed and certain they would not send this letter to somebody whose name sounds English. My biggest concern is: at what point would they say to people that free Covid treatment is complete and here is the itemised bill for the additional complications to his health? If I had received that letter I would’ve been very fearful. I am sure that there are many people who have been affected in the same way but are too scared to speak out.”

Aliya Yule, Access to Healthcare Organiser at Migrants Organise, said: 

“The awful stories highlighted by this report reveal the everyday racism faced by migrant and BAME communities at the hands of the Hostile Environment. These policies mobilise fear and discrimination to exclude people from accessing essential public services, like the NHS. The devastating impact of these policies is reflected in the disproportionate number of migrant and BAME communities who are dying because of coronavirus. 

At a time when structural racism is making headlines in Britain and around the world, it is imperative that the Government acts to ensure everybody can access NHS care, by ending the Hostile Environment. Everyone must be able to access healthcare safely and freely during the pandemic – and the Government is responsible to ensure that no one is left out.”

James Skinner, Former Nurse and Access to Healthcare Campaigner at Medact, said:

“Our report shows the devastating impact of the Government’s refusal to suspend the Hostile Environment during the pandemic, despite warnings from the Lancet, the British Medical Association, 60 MPs, and a host of Royal Colleges, of the harm it does to migrant and BAME communities. The Government has failed in it’s duty to ensure everybody can access care during the pandemic and has jeopardised the ability of the NHS to respond to this crisis. 

The fear and exclusion created by the Hostile Environment has no place in our health service. The NHS is supposed to be there for everyone, whenever they need it, but to do this it must be accessible to all, especially during a public health crisis.”

Daniel Button, Senior Economist at NEF, said: 

“Our research shows that many migrants can’t access the healthcare they need during the coronavirus crisis. Migrants are being deterred from seeking care because of the government’s Hostile Environme​nt policies – from charging for NHS services, to data sharing with the Home Office – and the coronavirus exemption for charging is not working. 

For those that are seeking care despite the fear created by the Hostile Environment, the coronavirus crisis has created a number of additional barriers that are not being adequately addressed. The result is harrowing examples of harm and preventable death.”  

The report is part of the Patients Not Passports campaign, run in partnership with Docs Not Cops, Medact, and the New Economics Foundation. Together with the Patients Not Passports Toolkit, they offer resources and information that should support healthcare workers and people affected by charging to launch campaigns in their Trusts and in their communities. Find the toolkit at www.PatientsNotPassports.co.uk.


For more information, contact … Aliya Yule at aliya@migrantsorganise.org 

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