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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 November 17; 335(7628): 1012–1013.
PMCID: PMC2078637

Charity warns of proposed restrictions to asylum seekers' access to primary care

Failed asylum seekers in the United Kingdom could be refused access to primary care services, under proposals being considered by the Home Office, a human rights charity has warned.

The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture says that it is concerned that the government is considering proposals to refuse unsuccessful asylum seekers still living in the UK the right to access primary health care.

Under current regulations, failed asylum seekers have a discretionary entitlement to use primary care, including GP visits, dental care, and midwife support, although some restrictions are imposed on the secondary care services that they are entitled to receive.

The charity has warned that the government is considering curbing access to primary care, however, which it says if implemented could have “irreparable consequences.”

In March the Home Office published a document, Enforcing the Rules: A Strategy to Ensure and Enforce Compliance with our Immigration Laws, and announced a joint review with the Department of Health on access to the NHS by foreign nationals.

Speaking in June in response to a report by the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights on the treatment of asylum seekers, the Home Office minister Liam Byrne said that the government's review “in relation to primary care services” would be to “establish clear rules.”

“Any new rules will take into account the key preventative and public health role of NHS primary medical care as well as international laws and humanitarian principles,” he said.

Angela Burnett, senior clinician at the foundation, warned, however, that the restrictions, both current and proposed, denied vulnerable and destitute individuals the chance to have serious and sometimes life threatening conditions identified that needed treatment.

Tony Calland, chairman of the BMA's medical ethics committee, said that the BMA would be “extremely concerned if this very vulnerable group of patients were charged for basic medical treatment.

“Not only would this be wrong on humanitarian grounds, but it would not make economic sense either as we are we are talking about victims of torture who have fled their countries because of fear of persecution. If their medical conditions are not treated early they could develop into emergency situations, where the patients would be eligible for free treatment.”

Dr Calland added that such patients who had infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, if left untreated could also pose a risk to the public in general.

Mayur Lakhani, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, added, “A GP's job is to make decisions about the clinical care of patients. Eligibility for care and immigration checks are not issues that GPs should have to get involved in.”

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