Doctors of the World finds migrants are avoiding seeking medical treatment

A new report by Doctors of the World – Médecins du monde (MdM) has found that even migrants who have permission to be in the UK are avoiding seeking vital medical treatment for fear of being arrested, thePress Association (PA) reported yesterday.

The report, Access to healthcare for people facing multiple health vulnerabilities, can be read here.

The MdM report is based on data collected in 2014 in face-to-face medical and social consultations with 23,040 people in 25 programmes/cities in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Turkey.

MdM runs healthcare clinics for vulnerable people, including one in Bethnal Green, East London.

The majority of patients seen across Europe by MdM (91.3%) were living below the poverty line. Most (93.6%) were foreign nationals who had on average been living in Europe for more than six years.

Migrants seen by MdM in the UK cited fear of being arrested, administrative and legal barriers, lack of knowledge or understanding of the healthcare system and their rights, along with language barriers as reasons for not pursuing conventional healthcare routes, the PA said.

The MdM report notes: “In London, almost all patients (82.7%) had no access to the NHS at all when they came to the MdM clinic: they had not been able to register yet with a GP, the entry point to the healthcare system. This was in a political context where the government was (and still is) increasingly questioning access to healthcare for immigrants. Only 9.0% already had free access to a GP.”

According to the PA, more than half (57.5%) of the people attending the centre were foreign nationals who did not have permission to reside in the UK.

MdM says its report clearly deconstructs the myth of migration for health reasons, so often used by governments to restrict access to care: “The migrants encountered in 2014 had been living in the ‘host country’ for 6.5 years on average before consulting MdM. Only 3% quoted health as one of the reasons for migration.”

Doctors of the World UK  says the report found that a “dangerous cocktail of austerity policies and hostility towards migrants” means over half of pregnant women seen at MdM clinics have been unable to access antenatal care and two-thirds of children seen are going unvaccinated.

Leigh Daynes, executive director of Doctors of the World UK, said: “The failure to ensure equitable access to healthcare across Europe is this century’s hidden public health time bomb.”

MdM states in its report: “EU Member States and institutions must offer universal public health systems built on solidarity, equality and equity (and not on profit rationale), open to everyone living in the EU. MdM urges Member States and EU institutions to ensure immediately that all children residing in the EU have full access to national immunisation programmes and to paediatric care. Similarly, all pregnant women must have access to termination of pregnancy, antenatal and postnatal care and safe delivery. In order to respect the ban on the death penalty, seriously ill migrants should never be expelled to a country where effective access to adequate healthcare cannot be guaranteed. They must be protected in Europe and have access to the care they need.”