This blog was written by Nasrin Warsame, an organiser with Migrants Organise.
Patients Not Passports is the campaign to end migrant charging in the NHS.
On Saturday 17th September, at the first turn of autumn chill, 55 organisers from across the UK congregated in a tucked away church in London for the first day of the Patients Not Passports (PNP) National Gathering.
The gathering brought together Patients Not Passports organisers from across the country – from healthcare workers and allied health professionals, NHS campaigners to people subject to hostile environment policies and allies – who came together, united in the commitment to end charging migrants to use the NHS, and against the Hostile Environment immigration system in general.
The gathering began with sharing rounds on what made everyone feel hopeful because, as we have learned from Mariame Kaba: ‘hope is a discipline.’ This quote resonated with many people because it is proactive and encouraging. It defined hope, not as a fleeting emotion which is defined only by the world around us, but a practice which can be made and remade endlessly, in a thousand different ways.
Embodiments of hope littered the timeline of events as organisers and attendees reflected and mapped out all the past actions, events and significant moments, including when they got involved. It was an exercise which allowed everyone to see the huge amount of work and campaigning that has already been done to push NHS Trusts, health institutions and other power holders to publicly and practically oppose NHS charging for migrants since the Patients Not Passports campaign began 5 years ago.
Organisers then shared some stories of hope, resistance and impact.
We heard from one member who intervened when a junior doctor at an A&E had a cancer patient discharged from another hospital to the street. This led to a network of people also intervening until the patient was transferred back into their chemotherapy treatment and had the patient’s immigration status secured!
In another case, organisers from Keep Our NHS Public got Barts Health Trust to cancel the NHS debt of a destitute man that would have taken him 32 years to pay off. They also got the Trust to commit to reviewing all cases of destitute people on payment plans.
We heard from people who had insecure immigration status and feared calling a doctor or using the NHS due to the Hostile Environment. They talked about how being part of a community and sharing their stories with others in a safe environment empowered them to fight for themselves and others.
We also heard from Simba Mujakachi, from the Justice for Simba campaign. In 2019, despite living in the UK since he was 14 years old, Simba received a £100,000 bill after he needed life-saving treatment. After a tireless campaign, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust agreed to retract the bill and Simba has been granted refugee status! We were given the opportunity to ask questions and learn from this experience in our ongoing fight against this cruel system.
All of these stories had something in common – community. A major facet of the Hostile Environment is keeping people away from communities of care, but by coming together, sharing issues and stories, raising awareness, building local campaigns, organising in our communities and workplaces, and taking escalating action on a local NHS Trust, we create relational power and change.
The National Gathering was both an important opportunity for organisers to strategise and reorientate key priorities to win this fight, as well as find others working in similar geographic locations or on similar campaign areas. It allowed us to share knowledge and resources, learning from each other and building new relationships and friendships.
At the Gathering, attendees shared their priorities for the year and collectively agreed to move forward with workplace and community organising, political education, evidence gathering and creating shared resources, national advocacy, and building communities of collective care.
‘Hopeful’, ‘re-energised’, ‘inspired’ and ‘connected’ were the most frequent words used by organisers when asked to share one word which described how they felt at the end of the weekend. Every story told was a testament to what can happen when people come together.
Going forward, we need to build on this momentum, and create a mass movement of communities impacted, health workers, and the wider public to oppose NHS charging for healthcare, and the entirety of the Hostile Environment in the NHS.
Here’s how you can get involved in the Patients Not Passports campaign…
Join the next Patients Not Passports New Joiners Meeting
- Thursday 6th of October at 7pm. Register now! https://patientsnotpassports.co.uk/new-joiners/
- Thursday 1st November 7PM https://patientsnotpassports.co.uk/new-joiners/
- Join the Solidarity Knows No Borders community to organise against the Hostile Environment!
Thank you to all the organisers, venue staff, caterers, funders and everyone else who made the weekend happen! A special shout out to our partners at Medact, with whom we jointly coordinate the Patients Not Passports campaign.