Still scapegoating asylum seekers

The sheer malevolence of this Government still has the power to shock.

An excellent article in yesterday’s Observer covered Labour’s proposals to stop failed asylum seekers having access to most NHS services.

Back in 2003, the Government tried to start a moral panic about ‘overseas visitors’ coming to the UK with the explicit purpose of cheating us out of ‘our’ healthcare. The then Health Secretary John Reid (remember him?) thundered: “If there are bona fide tourists dropping ill in the street, of course we will do what we have to do, but we are not mugs. There is a difference between being civilised and being taken for a ride”. Reid said the crackdown would also target failed asylum seekers who were “effectively stealing treatment from the people of this country”.

This was part of a wider project of scapegoating asylum seekers that was very much a Government preoccupation at the time. Some of us might find it unlikely that asylum seekers leave their homes and families, spend all their money and risk their lives for the sole purpose of making an appointment with a UK GP – but then we’re not blessed with a Labour Minister’s powers of self-delusion.

Under the plans, ‘overseas visitors’ – including failed asylum seekers – would be eligible to access primary care only in emergencies, or for a handful of exempted conditions such as TB and HIV. The Government consulted with a range of expert bodies on its proposals. It seems very likely that the consultation came up with the wrong results, as the Department of Health has repeatedly refused to publish the findings. Even a Freedom of Information request failed to elicit the consultation results.

Campaign group ‘Global Health Advocacy Project’ managed to contact many of those who contributed to the original consultation, and asked for copies of their submissions. Their findings show overwhelming opposition to the Government’s proposals. Respondents gave evidence that the proposals breached medical ethics, and could be open to legal challenge. Denying people access to routine healthcare also posed a serious public health risk. People can’t reliably self-diagnose TB, or HIV positive status. Denial of routine healthcare therefore massively risks the spread of infection. The same applies to denial of access to routine vaccinations – so we’ll see an increased risk of epidemics of measles, diphtheria and whooping cough.

The Observer article doesn’t cover this, but denial of routine healthcare to pregnant women will inevitably lead to a sharp rise in maternal and infant mortality, and an increase in childhood disability.

The Labour Government still intends to roll out these plans. Most of us would surely regard access to healthcare as a basic human right. It is shocking to see the casual denial of that right. It is also shocking that the Government is so committed to victimising asylum seekers that a racist ideology can take priority over public health.

The Observer says that Health Secretary Alan Johnson is ‘privately opposed’ to these plans, but is under pressure from the Home Office. ‘Privately opposed’ isn’t good enough. Let’s see a little scrap of humanity for a change.

Congratulations to Global Health Advocacy for an excellent piece of work.


2 Responses to Still scapegoating asylum seekers

  1. jim jay says:

    “‘Privately opposed’ isn’t good enough.”

    Too right – what good is that to anyone – excellent post.

  2. Cathy Watson says:

    Absolutely right. We have had discussions on this in our community mental health team over the years, and the consensus has always been to ignore Government policy to restrict treatment.

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