On Tuesday 6th October, Lancet Migration: global collaboration to advance migration health, Doctors of the World UK (DOTW), and the Faculty of Public Health (FPH) are launching a coalition campaign to call for universal and equitable access to NHS services during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. More than 20 organisations have already joined the Hands Up for Our Health campaign and coalition building is ongoing. The coalition said as a first priority, the UK Government must immediately suspend the NHS charging regulations, which pose a serious risk to public health and are causing unnecessary suffering and death among some of those in the most vulnerable situations in the UK, such as destitute migrants.
Join the campaign here.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise again and winter fast approaching, the government cannot afford to ignore the experts and wealth of evidence any longer. Failure to include migrant and refugee populations in the UK’s COVID-19 response at this critical point in time means any public health measures to control the virus are inequitable and ineffective. “The COVID-19 pandemic shows clearly that nobody is protected unless everybody is protected,” said DOTW, FPH and Lancet Migration in a joint statement. “Only by including all populations in equitable access to healthcare, particularly those most marginalised, can we overcome global health challenges such as COVID-19.”
The Hands Up for Our Health coalition campaign calls for a united push for universal access to NHS services for everyone living in the UK, but particularly the most marginalised, with three key asks for central government:
1. To immediately suspend the NHS charging regulations, giving everyone the chance to see a doctor or nurse when they need to. This public health change is needed urgently as charging migrants for hospital services threatens the health of both individuals and the population as a whole during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
2. To carry out research and an investigation into the impact of charging regulations on individual and public health, including during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to invite coalition partners to take part in joint action to bring about long-term reform of the charging policy.
3. To commit to improving access to all NHS services for everyone living in the UK as part of the government’s plan to “build back better”.
Lancet Migration fully supports these calls which build on our work in the area of universal health care and migration research and policy over the last two years. The UCL-Lancet Commission in 2018 called for: “universal and equitable access to health services and to all determinants of the highest attainable standard of health within the scope of universal health coverage…to be provided by governments to migrant populations, regardless of age, gender, or legal status.” The Lancet Migration Global Statement to ensure inclusion of migrants and refugees within the COVID-19 response (April 2020) emphasised the need for immediate suspension of laws and prohibitive fees that limit access to health-care services and economic support programmes and the Lancet Migration UK Policy Brief (May 2020) highlighted that: “exclusion of any persons, including migrant populations, from healthcare leads to difficulty…in controlling the virus…For COVID-19 responses to be effective, they must explicitly address the needs of migrants, as outlined by the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), and multiple organisations.”
The Lancet Executive Editor Jocalyn Clark said: “The Lancet fully supports the coalition’s call for immediate suspension of NHS charges that unfairly impact already vulnerable migrants and refugees in the UK. Without equitable and universal access to NHS care, we will fail to fully protect our communities in the face of rising rates of COVID-19. As the Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, has emphasised, this pandemic is a challenge shared by every member of society and its successful resolution will demand a collective response. No one must be excluded from access to healthcare during this emergency. Suspending NHS charges is a necessary and urgent part of our COVID-19 response.”
Dr Lucinda Hiam, Programme Officer, Lancet Migration: global collaboration to advance migration health, NHS GP, and DOTW Clinical Lead for UK Policy and Advocacy, said: “As a doctor, I see first-hand the impact the UK charging regulations have on patients: they cause distress, delays in treatment, and deter those in need from seeing a doctor or nurse when they need to. More than ever, it is essential that everyone in our communities is included in healthcare. The Hands Up for Our Health campaign builds on Lancet Migration’s UK brief, which explained that COVID-19 can only be controlled if everyone, including migrants and refugees, is part of the response; and on the work of Lancet Migration to ensure equitable access to healthcare for all, regardless of immigration status. The government must listen to the wide range of voices uniting to call for the charging regulations to be suspended as a matter of urgency.”
Dr Miriam Orcutt, Executive Director, Lancet Migration said: “It is imperative that the charging regulations and the broader hostile environment are immediately suspended as a matter of urgency in order to prevent further harm to marginalised groups, such as migrants and asylum seekers. Such regulations which restrict access to healthcare for migrant populations are contrary to the commitment of the government to the Sustainable Development Goals which aim to ‘leave no-one behind’ and to the high level declaration on Universal Health Coverage in 2019, which specifically includes migrants. It is particularly apparent during the current public health emergency, how essential it is to ensure universal and equitable access to health services for all.”
Read our BMJ opinion piece here.
Find the full press release here.