MIGRANTS WHO have been given permission to be in the United Kingdom are avoiding seeking vital medical treatment for fear of being arrested, a charity has warned.
Senior officials from the Doctors of the World charity have claimed that most - 83 per cent - of the patients it spoke to for its annual survey had no access to the NHS.
Although 57 per cent of the people attending one of its clinics in east London were foreign nationals who did not have permission to reside in the UK, the charity said on average, patients had already been living in the country for six-and-a-half years, illustrating that they are not so-called health tourists travelling to the UK for the purpose of free medical treatment.
Along with fear of being arrested, administrative and legal barriers, lack of knowledge or understanding of the healthcare system and their rights, along with language barriers were cited as reasons for not pursuing conventional healthcare routes.
The issue of migrants and healthcare has become one of the most divisive political debates in recent years as Britain’s borders have been opened up to foreign nationals. The Yorkshire Post revealed last month that more than £2m is owed to cash-starved hospitals in the region from overseas patients not entitled to free treatment on the NHS.
But the executive director of Doctors of the World UK, Leigh Daynes, was adamant many in the migrant population are still refraining from seeking medical treatment that they are entitled to.
He added: “The failure to ensure equitable access to healthcare across Europe is this century’s hidden public health time bomb. Austerity, poverty and exclusion risk robbing an entire generation of healthy, productive lives across a continent that undervalues the benefits of universal healthcare.
“European states must recognise and address this looming public health crisis without delay not least because it makes sound economic, as well as health sense.”
A report by the charity in March found pregnant migrant women living in Britain are regularly denied access to healthcare they are entitled to and those that do are often sent huge bills, even when they lose their babies.
The international charity’s annual survey of access to healthcare in Europe is based on the experiences of more than 22,000 individuals, 1,400 of them in London. Of those seen in the capital, 15 per cent were asylum seekers, while 12 per cent had a visa, the highest proportion observed in the European countries of the survey.
The charity said across the 10 countries, less than half of the children seen in its consultations were properly immunised against tetanus, measles, mumps and rubella and more than half pregnant women had not had access to antenatal care until they were well into their second trimester.
A Yorkshire Post investigation revealed last month the scale of the debts which hospitals are faced with from overseas patients not entitled to free NHS treatment. In Leeds, the debt from those who have left the country without paying for treatment stands at £964,699 and figures suggest the problem is growing.
NHS hospitals in Sheffield, meanwhile, are £851,785 in the red from visitors not entitled to free treatment, and the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust is still chasing payment from 75 patients for £84,732 worth of healthcare provided since 2012.