“HIV & AIDS is foremost a political crisis, as well as a medical emergency, we will use every means possible to call out and contain this pandemic” – so says the mission statement of ACT UP: London. As activists involved in fight against HIV and AIDS we know and understand the weight of the pandemic, unlike so many of those in government who care more about pandering to the extreme right and introducing dangerous, discriminatory and ill-conceived changes to the law. We’ve outlined just what the health clauses in this (massively misguided) bill could do, and the wider effects it may have on those living with or without HIV. Remember, treatment is prevention, and we cannot allow restrictions to essential services and primary care to allow infection rates to increase, or deny others the right to their health. We hope you will read and share this information.
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THE IMMIGRATION BILL BRIEFING
Under current law, all ‘ordinary residents’ of the UK can access free primary care (i.e. GP visits) and emergency services (A&E visits).
Two clauses in the new Immigration Bill would change that:
- There will be a new migrant surcharge (of approximately £150-200 annually) for NHS services, which all people applying for visas will have to pay.
- Free NHS access will now be available only to permanent residents (i.e. people who’ve been in the UK five years or longer). For the first time in the 65 year history of the NHS, charges will be imposed for primary & emergency care.
IMPORTANT POINTS TO NOTE:
- These are not changes for ‘illegal’ immigrants — they target people who are here lawfully, including students, people who are in employed and paying taxes, family members of permanent residents, and others with ‘settled’ lives in the UK.
- A new IT system will link NHS numbers with Home Office data, effectively turning medical professionals into border control agents.
PROBLEMS WITH THESE MEASURES:
They are discriminatory:
- settled, lawful migrants who may be employed, paying taxes, etc. will be charged extra for NHS treatment.
- NHS staff will be required to make judgements about who qualifies for treatment. If there are problems with keeping the IT system up-to-date (very likely, given the Home Office’s track record), people who qualify for treatment may be denied.
- In practice, the minority ethnic population (who ‘look foreign’) will be subject to more suspicion in regards to these charges.
Universal access to primary care benefits everyone; restrictions on primary care will harm everyone.
- Illnesses and infectious diseases are best identified through regular doctors’ visits. If people are discouraged from going to the doctor, their health conditions will remain untreated for longer and become more serious.
- The non-white population is significantly more likely to be diagnosed with HIV via primary care visits, rather than in sexual health clinics. For this reason, among many others, they should not be discouraged from visiting the doctor.
- The Government has pledged that HIV medications will remain free for all – but if a major segment of the at-risk population is not attending primary care visits, and never learns their status, they will not be aware of the need to access treatment.
- Fewer doctors’ visits will result in more infectious diseases (HIV, TB etc.) going unidentified for longer – and infection rates will rise throughout the whole population. As we know, viruses do not respect immigration status.
They will not save costs:
- if infection rates rise and people’s medical conditions worsen, the state will bear greater costs later on through emergency treatment than if the conditions were treated more affordably through early detection.
They are intrusive and invade people’s privacy:
- everyone (not just migrants) will have to re-register with the NHS.
- all patients will have to prove their identity before being treated.
- links between Home Office and NHS raise confidentiality issues in relation to people’s medical records. Doctors and nurses may effectively end up acting as ‘border control.’
- at A&E, individuals may have to prove their identity before receiving emergency treatment
- urgently needed services will not be denied, but patients may then be subject to charges after the fact of thousands of pounds.
THESE CLAUSES WILL INCREASE COSTS & INCREASE INFECTION RATES.
THEY WILL CREATE A TWO-TIERED SYSTEM THAT WILL ULTIMATELY HARM OUR PUBLIC HEALTH.
UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE BENEFITS THE ENTIRE POPULATION — KEEP THE NHS FREE FOR ALL!