Migrants in England face delays of 37 weeks on average when accessing NHS services. One-in-three of those surveyed in a report by Doctors of the World (DOTW) had been made to wait between six months and a year for important health treatment. For those requiring ‘urgent or immediately necessary’ treatment, the wait was only one week shorter.
Those affected fall under the category of ‘not ordinarily resident’ in England – a term created by the Tories as part of their ‘hostile environment’ approach to migrants. While the NHS tries to maintain an 18-week maximum waiting time for everybody else, those under scrutiny by Priti Patel and other Tory xenophobes have had their waiting time doubled.
These barriers to healthcare are not new. In 2017, the Tory government introduced a requirement that migrants must pay a whopping 150% of the cost of their treatment upfront. Yet, of those featured in the DOTW report, the vast majority were destitute, barely able to meet their normal living needs.
In one harrowing case, a homeless Gambian refugee was charged £8,397 for treatment after falling unconscious. Diagnosed with brain and lung cancer, he was unable to afford the chemotherapy. He died five months after his first symptoms appeared. Even on his deathbed, friends recall how he was terrified he would be sent away from hospital for being unable to pay the bill.
Myth of health tourism
In 2016, the pro-Brexit Vote Leave campaign released a statement declaring that “health tourism from the EU has cost us billions”. Health tourism – the belief that EU nationals visit the UK to take advantage of our healthcare services for free, to the detriment of the NHS – is a widely falsified claim.
🏥 Rampant health tourism sees UK taxpayers footing the bill for overseas patients refusing to pay up! The £76m black hole over four years is expected to be the tip of the iceberg...— Leave.EU (@LeaveEUOfficial) May 13, 2019
Haven't paid in? Not to worry, it's on us - the British taxpayer. Get it together, @MattHancock!
A 2013 report commissioned by the government revealed that their conclusions were based on “incomplete data, sometimes of varying quality, and a large number of assumptions”. Hardly a convincing basis for their systematic discrimination against migrants!
Expenditure figures are just as revealing: the UK spends more money on Brits abroad than migrants at home. In 2016 alone, the UK spent £723 million more than any other EU country in funding overseas healthcare for nationals living abroad.
Health tourism is a myth, purposefully designed to cast migrants as exploiters of our country’s ‘beloved’ NHS – thus driving a wedge between the British working class and their foreign-born fellow workers.
A right, not a privilege
In October 2017, the NHS introduced regulations requiring ID checks for most non-emergency, hospital-based care. This came as part of a raft of policies brought in as a result of the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts, including the previously mentioned 150% health charge.
In response, the Docs Not Cops campaign was established by NHS professionals and patients, stating that “health is a right, not a privilege”.
ID-checking means that overworked, under-staffed A&E departments are expected to also interrogate patients about their residential status. In addition, it leads to delays in migrants seeking healthcare, in order to avoid discrimination and fees, with patients only arriving in hospital when their health issue has become an emergency.
There have also been multiple cases of NHS trusts inappropriately charging migrants for healthcare that should be provided for free. For example, there was the scandalous case of an eight-day-old baby who received a letter requesting payment for...their birth.
As the Docs Not Cops campaign clearly states, the changes implemented in 2017 “will cause harm to patient care, will delay and block treatment, unfairly penalise migrants, [and] are based on dubious claims.”
Free healthcare for all
This ‘hostile environment’ is one of many tools the capitalist state, the establishment, and the bosses use to divide the working class and exploit migrant workers. Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals must organise with the labour movement to fight these reactionary and oppressive policies.
While the Tories use the tried-and-tested methods of xenophobia and racism to protect their class interests, health workers are growing more conscious of these cynical tactics. The Patients not Passports toolkit allows healthcare staff to resist the creeping invasion of the hostile environment into the clinical workplace.
The best solution, however, lies in the power of the organised working class. The trade unions should link up with local migrant support groups and the Labour Party to organise migrant workers.
The leaders of the labour movement should fight for an end to the health surcharge and for free medical care for all, regardless of residential status.
The truth is that there is more than enough wealth in society to provide decent healthcare for all. The problem is that it is currently in the hands of the fat cat bosses and parasitic profiteers. This is why we need a democratic, socialist planned economy, in order to provide a properly-funded NHS – under workers’ control – that can serve the health needs of the whole population.
No one should needlessly suffer or die because of where they were born. And under socialism, no one would.