BRITISH charities and Members of Parliament have expressed alarm that undocumented migrants have begun dying from neglect because they are too afraid to seek help from the National Health Service (NHS) and their local authorities.
With 120,067 cases and 16,060 fatalities, the UK has the fifth highest number of deaths worldwide, with her ethnic minorities being the hardest hit. About a third of all British fatalities are from her ethnic minorities which has been put down to the fact that a lot of them work for the NHS and in public services such as transport. where they are exposed to affected people.
However, there are now fears that a lot of undocumented migrants who may not have the legal right to live in the UK may be dying quietly because they cannot come forward. This has led to several charities and MPs to urge the British Home Office to suspend al NHS immigration checks for now.
Under UK law, doctors and NHS staff mist check the legal status of anyone who comes forward for treatment to ascertain that they are legally entitled to treatment. In one case, a Filipino man died from suspected coronavirus last week after not accessing healthcare for fears of being reported to the Home Office, according to campaigners.
As a result, 60 cross-party MPs have written to the health secretary Matt Hancock, calling for the immediate suspension of charging for migrants and all associated data-sharing and immigration checks, which they say are undermining the government’s efforts to respond to the pandemic. This Filipino man, known only as Elvis, is said to have died in his home on 8 April after suffering from a fever and a cough for two weeks.
His wife, also an undocumented Filipino national, is currently suffering with similar symptoms but is also too afraid to access healthcare. Before he fell ill, Elvis, who had been in the UK for about 10 years, was working as a cleaner and sending money back to his family in the Philippines.
His wife, a domestic worker, was reportedly in their home with her husband’s body for 24 hours before an undertaker arrived to take the corpse away. She did not want to speak with the media when they arrived for fear of revealing herself.
Susan Cueva, of the Kanlangun Filipino Consortium, a charity that is now supporting Elvis’s wife with food deliveries, said that although he was seriously ill, he was too afraid to go to the hospital for fear that he would be charged for his treatment, which he could not afford, and that he would be reported to immigration authorities. Ms Cueva added that the man’s wife was devastated by his death and terrified about how she will sustain herself without him.
She said: “Having lived with her partner for 10 years, she really doesn’t know what to do with her life here, especially as she’s undocumented. She is so terrified and really traumatised.
“They lived normally in this country. They couldn’t declare their work or access public services but they managed to live very self-sufficiently. People employed them and they were able to support their family back in the Philippines and rent a place and be part of the community.”
Britain’s NHS charging policy, introduced in 2018 as part of the hostile environment, charges non-EU patients 50% more than it costs the NHS to treat them and requires hospital staff to demand proof of entitlement to free healthcare. In response to the coronavirus outbreak, ministers introduced regulations on 29 January that meant no charge could be made to an overseas visitor for diagnosis or treatment of the virus, saying it was very important, for public health protection, that overseas visitors are not deterred from seeking treatment for Covid-19.
However, the MPs warned that while this was a welcome step it did not go far enough. The letter, coordinated by Labour MPs Apsana Begum, Bell Ribeiro-Addy and Zarah Sultana, points out that other countries, including Ireland, Portugal and South Korea, have already taken steps to improve access for their migrant communities, in recognition of its importance in combating the spread of Covid-19.
Their letter reads: “It does not undo years of hostile environment policies, in which migrants have been told that they will be charged for healthcare or faced with immigration enforcement when accessing public services. In the present moment, this undermines the government’s efforts to respond to the pandemic.”