Sheffield MPs and healthworkers call for NHS fees for migrants to be scrapped during Covid-19 pandemic

Bills for migrants accessing NHS healthcare should be scrapped while the coronavirus pandemic remains present, a group of MPs say.

Although testing and treatment for Covid-19 is free for everybody during the crisis, there are reports that migrants have not been made aware of this and have been too worried about the cost or consequences for their status to access treatment after becoming unwell.

People of Black, Caribbean and South Asian ethnicity were disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and had between 10 and 50 per cent higher risk of death from the disease compared to White British people, according to a report published by the Government last month.

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Higher proportions of migrants are also statistically more likely to work in jobs involving greater exposure to infection, as well as being more likely to live in densely populated areas.

People of Black, Caribbean and South Asian ethnicity in the UK had between 10 and 50 per centhigher risk of death from coronavirus, a report last month found

Sheffield Labour MPs Paul Blomfield, Olivia Blake, Gill Furniss are today joining with a group of healthcare workers - Medact Sheffield - to demand NHS fees are temporarily waivered while also calling for an end to 'NHS Hostility', which may be preventing migrants and asylum seekers from seeking medical help.

The group has also joined forces with the Justice For Simba campaign, which was set up last year after Simba Mujakachi, who lives in Sheffield and moved to the UK from Zimbabwe as a teenager in 2004, was charged £93,000 after intensive care treatment following a stroke.

Mr Mujakachi, 32, was hospitalised a few weeks before his 30th birthday with symptoms later diagnosed as a stroke and spent two weeks in a coma following a life-saving operation.

Stuart Crosthwaite, secretary of the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group (SYMAAG), said some migrants were even avoiding seeking treatment altogether for fears it will affect their immigration status.

Bills for migrants accessing NHS healthcare should be scrapped while the coronavirus pandemic remains present, campaigners in Sheffield say

He said: "Some of our members have been afraid to register with a GP or to seek medical treatment, including testing for Covid 19, in South Yorkshire.

"They are understandably worried that seeking treatment will result in their information being passed to the Home Office and adversely affect their claim for asylum. They feel they are being forced to choose between their health and their immigration claim. In a pandemic this has consequences for us all."

Olivia Blake, MP for Sheffield Hallam, said: “From my time as both a Councillor and now an MP I know about the multitude of barriers and difficulties preventing migrants from accessing healthcare.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has further exposed these weaknesses in our healthcare system to devastating effect. We need to ensure everyone can access the healthcare they need.”

Sheffield MPs Paul Blomfield, Olivia Blake and Gill Furniss (L-R)

In April this year, a letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock signed by 60 MPs called for the Government to suspend NHS immigration checks and data sharing following the death of a Filipino man who died at home with Covid-19 symptoms after refusing to access treatment from fears he would be charged thousands or have his information passed to the Home Office.

The Patients Not Passports report published by Medact last month also highlighted the issue of hostility, finding that the coronavirus exemption for charges "was not working" and that more than half (56 per cent) of respondents had not seen any information raising awareness of migrants’ rights to healthcare during the crisis.

In one instance in the report, a male patient from an undisclosed location in Yorkshire was not referred to secondary care by his GP, as the doctor knew he wouldn't be able to pay for treatment.

Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis said yesterday there was a "clear link with deprivation" when looking at the country's worst-hit areas for coronavirus deaths.

Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis said yesterday there was a "clear link with deprivation" when looking at the country's worst-hit areas for coronavirus deaths

Mr Jarvis told Sky News' Sophy Ridge that the outbreak "brought to the fore many of the structural inequalities that we’ve been dealing with for generations", and has called on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to use his economic statement on Wednesday to deal with inequality issues.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Health and Social Care said: “During this unprecedented period, no one will be charged for their Covid-19 testing, diagnosis or treatment. Anyone who needs a test is able to get one, either at one of our drive-through or mobile testing sites across the country, or through home testing kits that we deliver to them.

“NHS trusts have been advised that no immigration checks are required for overseas visitors that are known to be undergoing testing or treatment for Covid-19 only. Services such as NHS 111, primary care and A&E also continue to be free of charge to all overseas visitors and we are clear that when charges do apply urgent treatment must never be withheld.”