This is a guest blog post by Darya Azarmi and Yajur Arora from Docs Not Cops University of Birmingham, for the #NoBordersInTheNHS week of action 2021. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter, and get in touch with them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a country we value and praise the NHS for its ethos of being a fair, free and equitable service for all. Many believe healthcare is safe from discriminatory behaviours and bias driven by politically charged agendas, but unfortunately this is a myth that needs to be dispelled from the public eye. Through increasing immigration health surcharge costs and policies implementing increasingly hostile checks and charges – inevitably denying patients healthcare – we are seeing the NHS move away from its key values of universal compassion and care. Instead we see an approach entrenched in prejudice resulting in making healthcare services further inaccessible for migrants in Britain. In addition to this, COVID-19 has added another layer to the migrant healthcare crisis by exacerbating the already existing gulf of health inequalities.
Our message at Docs Not Cops is clear and simple: every individual deserves access to free and accessible healthcare, regardless of their immigration status or country of birth.
Heartbreakingly, there comes a human cost to these charges and policies which lead to either delays in life-saving interventions or absolute denial of treatment. We remember Elfreda Spencer, a grandmother living in London (Jamaican born), who was billed £30,000 for her chemotherapy which she could not afford to pay. She waited a year to be allowed her treatment only then to learn the cancer had developed to be terminal. Nasar Ullah Khan, father to two young sons, was another victim to these policies. Nasar lost his life at only 38 after being denied a heart transplant he desperately needed – he was also handed a bill of £32,000 for his treatment and care as an inpatient.
Aside from the incredulous fiscal charges, Nasar and Elfreda tragically paid for this inadequate and insensitive treatment with the ultimate price – their lives. Not only do we see an economic priority over the patient in both these cases, but more importantly a complete disregard for their dignity and the value of their life. What is blatantly clear is the complete violation of the basic human right to healthcare.
The harsh reality is that unfortunately stories like Elfreda’s and Nasar’s are seen far too often. We only stand to see the list of such cases growing longer with an increase in national anti-immigration sentiments fueled by politics manifesting in the development and renewal of hostile policies.
Docs Not Cops is supported by healthcare workers who value the belief that the NHS is here to help, not harm, and believe that we can fight for a future where healthcare is made accessible, equitable and treated as a basic human right to every individual. However, as of yet these policies are damaging both the foundations of the NHS’ values as well as patients’ trust in its service.
In plain terms, to define a patient by their papers is to not see them as a person but instead as a problem – and this goes against every fibre of what the NHS is made to be. We all have a part to play in debunking xenaphobic myths and challenging these policies. It can be easy to turn a blind eye to a problem we do not have to face for simply being born in Britain. However, by being a crowd of passive bystanders in the face of atrocity is to stand on the side of the oppressor.
We believe in strength in numbers, unity through lived experience, and standing strong in the face of adversity.
We believe that the NHS is a magnificently resilient organisation which has been preserved largely through the will and character of the individuals that serve and are served by it.
Finally, we remember the deaths of Nasar, Elfreda and countless others which could have been avoided if the government prioritised human beings over political agendas. To honour their memory and not allow their deaths to be in vain, come and stand with us together in the fight against the hostile environment that plagues our NHS: join the #PatientsNotPassports campaign.
If you’re interested in getting involved with Docs Not Cops and the #PatientsNotPassports campaign, join the ‘New Joiners’ meeting online on 23rd November at 7pm to find out what’s happening across the country.
“Organise To Win: Advocating For Our Patients Means Speaking Up, Protesting and Organising” by Dr Jess Potter, Respiratory Doctor working in London and member of Docs Not Cops
“Access to healthcare during a pandemic – a nurse’s perspective” by Kirit, a nurse in the NHS.