Failed asylum seekers must not be denied health care

July 29, 2004

It is unethical to deny failed asylum seekers access to the NHS, argues a doctor in this week's BMJ.

New rules state that failed asylum seekers are not entitled to free NHS treatment from the day their asylum claim failed, yet failed asylum seekers are not bogus asylum seekers, writes Paul Williams, a general practitioner in North East England.

Each day he sees people who have been imprisoned, tortured or raped but carry "only" psychological scars that do not convince decision makers of their suffering. Some have physical scars but their stories are not accepted. "The culture of disbelief and cynicism within the system places intimidating and often insurmountable barriers in the path towards being granted status," he writes.

Although the UK government has no obligation to people whose asylum applications have failed, to systematically deny them health care is unnecessary, unethical, and impractical, says the author. Even though the immigration system has passed judgement, the NHS should not.

There is no hard evidence that health tourism exists, and plenty of evidence that failed asylum seekers are desperate and needy, and have physical and psychological needs, he adds. "Healthcare professionals should not allow denial of care to failed asylum seekers to be used as a tool by which the government can beat these already broken people."


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