Author: Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Health campaigners are celebrating after east London’s biggest trust hospitals trust partially backed down over checking patients’ immigration status.
The climbdown followed a dozens-strong lobby of Barts Health NHS Trust annual general meeting outside Mile End Hospital on Wednesday. It was organised by North East London Save Our NHS and supported by Docs Not Cops and Stand Up To Racism.
The lobby followed revelations that Barts Health was making up to 100 enquiries a week to the Home Office about patients. This involved passing on “demographic data”—name, date of birth and address.
The story was highlighted in a front page story in Socialist Worker.
The Home Office could then use this information to hunt down people it is trying to deport.
Now the trust has agreed to stop asking patients for ID, remove posters and is “reviewing” a patient pre-attendance form.
Health campaigners set up mock immigration checkpoints outside the meeting. Terry Day from North East London Save Our NHS said, “The hospital keeps saying that no one is refused treatment.
“But the point is that it’s not free treatment—patients are whacked with a massive bill at the end”
The practice of checking patients’ IDs is part of the Tories’ “hostile environment” policy towards migrants.
Barts Health was part of a three-month pilot alongside 20 other NHS trusts that were asked to carry out the checks. Bosses agreed to continue with the checks even after the pilot ended in October 2017.
Under the Tories’ racist immigration rules many migrants from outside of the European Union cannot access free healthcare.
Terry explained that passport could mean that migrants do not seek treatment until they are very sick for fear of being deported. “There is a risk that people who are entitled to treatment are turned away,” she said.
“These policies are about instilling fear into people.”
Evan Lukes from Docs Not Cops said, “I know of people who have had to take suboptimal treatment because they could not afford care.”
And the restricting of care for migrants is a bridgehead for restricting and charging others for care.
The partial victory at Barts Health shows that campaigning can force bosses to back down over racist immigration rules.
Health campaigners launched an open letter ahead of the meeting that gathered widespread support. Its demands included that the trust stop asking patients for ID, suspends upfront charging and refuses to collaborate with the Tories’ racist “hostile environment”.
The policy is not just down to zealous bosses at Barts Health NHS Trust. It will take a broader fight across hospitals to take on the Tories’ hostile environment in the NHS.
Campaigners in other hospitals should take up the fight if their trusts are part of such checks.
And health workers’ trade unions need to support a policy of non-compliance with these checks and support any workers that refuses to take part in them.