Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 39, October 31, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Defending the right of all to health care as a human right

Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign Holds Picket
against Charging Migrants for NHS Healthcare

On Friday, October 23, campaigners from the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign (SLHC) and Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network held a picket in front of Lewisham Hospital against migrants being charged for NHS treatment. Because of Covid-19 restrictions no leaflets could be given out but the campaigners held up placards saying "Healthcare is a Human Right!", "Cruel NHS Charges Must Stop!", "3 years Upfront Charges Cost Lives!", "End NHS Hostile Environment!", "End Racism in the NHS End All Migrant Charges!". Olivia O'Sullivan, secretary of SLHC gave a spirited speech condemning the "cruel" NHS charges for migrants. She said that pregnant women are being charged over £5000 for having a baby with many women being frightened away by these NHS charges with serious consequences for them and their child's health.

The picket was held on the 3rd anniversary of the introduction of upfront NHS charges for elective care in 2017 as part of the government's "hostile environment" towards immigrants. These NHS charges have been opposed by the British Medical Association which represents all doctors, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and the Royal College of Midwives. NHS charges were first instigated by the Thatcher Government in 1989 which deprived a number of migrant groups from access to free NHS care on the basis of not being "ordinarily resident". In 2015, the Cameron government introduced a surcharge of £200 for many migrants to access NHS services, which was subsequently increased to £400, and set charges for those who have not paid the surcharge at 150% of the cost of services.

In 2017 the May government expanded the range of services subject to charges, mandated NHS bodies to charge migrants upfront wherever possible, and insisted they act as an immigration agency by recording people's status.

This policy has no basis in financial terms as this what the government calls "health tourism" only accounts for 0.3% of the NHS budget by the government's own admission.

Under this legislation patients who cannot prove their immigration status face upfront charges of up to 150% of the cost of NHS treatment. This vicious and racist government ruling has caused untold hardship with many patients being frightened away from seeking urgent treatment for fear of being faced with heavy charges. These NHS charges brought in by the government are particularly pernicious as they are aimed at vulnerable people on low incomes seeking residential status.

The leaflet which the SLHC has been distributing against the charges points out that these charges completely fly in the face of the founding principle of the NHS which is that healthcare is available to all and based on need, not the ability to pay. The leaflet points out: "Migrants are not 'health tourists' looking for free treatment but vulnerable people often on low incomes, looking for resident status. Hospital trusts including Lewisham and Greenwich Trust are told to check patient details with the Home Office and report anyone who owes £500 for two months or more, unless they have a repayment plan." The SLHC has been campaigning with the local NHS Trust and local councils to end the charges to migrants.

On their website the SLHC says categorically: "The Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign believes that now, more than ever, it is vital to end the hostile environment in the NHS and ensure unfettered access for everyone to free health care. We are one community!"

End NHS Health Charges to Migrants!
Healthcare Is a Right!


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