A letter signed by more than 600 activists has stopped an immigration check being carried out by the Barts Health Trust in east London.
Barts Health, which is the largest NHS Trust in London and operates five hospitals, received widespread criticism after it introduced identity checks on patients who were unable to convince the staff that they are UK residents eligible for free treatments.
The campaign group, North-East London Save Our NHS (NELSON) held a protest outside the trust’s annual meeting on September 12, erecting a mock “immigration checkpoint”.
The Trust’s approach was deemed dangerous as it was potentially scaring off many patients from the deprived communities in east London, particularly individuals from the Windrush generation who were unable to produce documents.
A notice issued by the trust on September 21 assures that they will take down take down posters put across their hospitals which warned people who were not “permanently resident” that they may have to pay for their care. The posters were not in line with the law, according to NELSON, which states people not “ordinarily resident” are ineligible for free NHS treatment that is not urgent or immediately necessary.
They have also stopped asking all maternity patients at Newham Hospital, and all renal patients at the Royal London Hospital for two forms of ID, including photo ID. They have stated that they will review their “pre-attendance form” which currently asks for lots of non-health-related information, including contact details for the patient’s employer, and warns that personal data may be passed to the Home Office for immigration purposes.
A spokesperson from North-East London Save Our NHS said: “The Home Office is infamous for incorrectly identifying people as being in breach of immigration rules. As well as doing what it is designed to do – instill fear into all migrants – sending data to the Home Office can only place people in jeopardy.
“While they continue to do this, many people will still be deterred from seeking healthcare at all, or will delay seeking treatment until their condition becomes an emergency.
“So our campaign is by no means over, but we are pleased at what we have achieved so far.”
Previously, hospital chiefs had said that they had no option but to implement new national rules cracking down on “health tourism”; the legitimacy of the claim has not been ascertained.
The proposal reflects a nationwide rising “hostile environment” towards immigrant people.
Speaking at a public meeting on Citizenship in a Hostile Environment, held on the Woodberry Down estate in Hackney on September 19, Julius Nkafu, barrister and chair of Africans for Labour, recounted the story of a heavily pregnant woman who was refused services by her hospital because she did not have papers showing her Leave to Remain. This was despite of the fact that she was an asylum seeker and her appeal was still under review.
Other discriminatory practices include refusing free meals for immigrant children, indefinite detention in immigration centres and high fees charged to non-EU residents for regularising the immigration status of their children.
However, healthcare charging is one of the main issues of the current immigration policy. Daf Viney, Centre Manager of Hackney Migrant Centre, recalled how a homeless man, who was diagnosed with cancer and given some treatment, was presented with a bill of £86,000. Similarly, a woman whose 6-year-old daughter received a liver transplant five years ago, was served a bill of £96,000, when she went to receive treatment herself on a separate occasion.
Barts currently faces a £109m deficit, and invoiced more than 1,900 patients last year, deemed unfit for free services, a total of £13m for their services.
They have stated that they will conduct an assessment of the impact on equality of their policies and practices and are supporting a research proposal from Queen Mary University of London, which will examine some of the implications of this policy for vulnerable people.