At Students for Global Health, we believe in a fair and just world in which equity in health is a reality for all. We believe that a fair, accessible and non-discriminatory health service is central to achieving this vision and that is why we have deep concerns about the changes to charging within the NHS that have been introduced by the Department of Health.
On October 23rd, 2017 new rules came into place that extended existing policy about who qualifies for free NHS care. The new rules introduced upfront charges for non-emergency care to those from certain migration backgrounds, including access to inpatient care, community mental health, school nursing and abortion services. The reality of implementing these changes means that passport checking in a hospital will become routine and all those found not eligible for free NHS care will be presented with a bill (often up to thousands of pounds). If this cannot be paid up front, patients will be turned away from care.
The rules around what treatment and which migration statuses are exempt from charges are complex, and poorly understood by many healthcare professionals, let alone patients who may face educational and language barriers. The complex new rules have been poorly explained to frontline staff, with little to no consultation process. The poor understanding by those enacting the policy has resulted in some hospitals unlawfully turning away or charging patients requiring urgent and life-extending treatment, with detrimental consequences. Doctors of the World, who help vulnerable people access healthcare, report a third of vulnerable migrants not accessing appropriate and timely medical care due to worries about the cost and data sharing between the NHS and the Home Office. This has included pregnant women and survivors of the tragic Grenfell Tower fire.
Migrants and asylum seekers are among the most vulnerable in society, and many suffer the long-term health consequences of poverty and persecution. In the UK they often face deprivation, poor living conditions and discrimination. Although high-quality healthcare wouldn’t solve these underlying issues, it would provide essential care and support for people in a time of need. The complex changes are likely to deter vulnerable groups from seeking care which is likely to result in increasing inequality in health outcomes for an already marginalised group.
The underpinning principles of the NHS are that of a health service free at the point of use, available on the basis of need and not an ability to pay, with care provided free from discrimination. The new charging regulations are at odds with these founding principles. The government is yet to conduct a policy analysis and so it is still unclear what the impact of this policy will be, but it is very difficult to see how it will do anything but increase health inequality in the UK, and further isolate vulnerable communities.
At Students for Global Health, we stand united for an NHS that remains free at the point of use, delivered on a basis of need, free from discrimination. We reject the scapegoating of the most vulnerable in our society and call for the government to address the true causes of NHS underfunding.
Join us in working to highlight the damaging impact of this policy and campaigning for change. We want to take action as a network to raise awareness about these new regulations and to gain support from students, health professionals, the wider community and our MPs to begin to tackle the charges. We want to show solidarity with migrant communities and ensure people feel welcomed and valued in our cities.
This campaign fits into our Coordinated Theme of the Sustainable Development Goals and our specific campaign of Access to Healthcare. Join us and take action!
- Write to your MP – check out the guide in writing to your MP
- Host a training on Access to Healthcare – keep your eyes peeled for more information on this and for training happening near you!
- Share this blog – keep up momentum and let’s build awareness and education each other.
We would love to hear about the action you have taken and any ideas you have about how to take this campaign even further forward. Please get involved, share widely and get in touch with Anna, our Policy and Advocacy Director at email@example.com.
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