A UK-wide government review has concluded that some asylum seekers whose claims have been refused but who cannot return home should not be denied free NHS treatment. Commenting on the announcement today (Monday 20 July, 2009), Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Head of Science and Ethics at the BMA, said:
"There are many people who have had an asylum claim refused, cannot return home, and need urgent treatment. This announcement, while positive, applies to only one group of people in this situation, and does not go far enough.
"We believe no-one whose asylum claim has been refused should be turned down for care which cannot be delayed, and which clinicians determine they need. Doing so affects our ability to control communicable disease, and ultimately puts additional pressure on the NHS, particularly on emergency services.
"The role of clinical staff is to determine what care a patient needs, and how urgently they need it - not to assess their immigration status. More must be done to ensure that those who need urgent care can access it."
Dr Nathanson welcomed the proposal for additional research on the policy of charging non-residents for HIV treatment beyond diagnosis:
"The policy of refusing non-resident HIV patients treatment after diagnosis has public health implications. It carries the risk that their health will decline to the point at which costly emergency treatment is required. We would expect further research to cover these areas. A research-base to support policy in this area would be welcome."
Commenting on other recommendations from the joint Department of Health and Home Office review into access to the NHS by foreign nationals, Dr Nathanson said:
"It seems sensible that residents who spend large periods of the year outside the UK - for example to avoid the British winter - do not lose their eligibility for NHS care.
"The possibility of a mandatory health insurance requirement for certain non-residents at a future date is worth considering but will be difficult to achieve in practice. The devil will be in the detail of making sure it works, is humane, and does not damage public health."