Migrants’ access to healthcare during the coronavirus crisis

How Hostile Environment policies impact the health of BAME and migrant communities.

By Patients Not Passports, Medact, Migrants Organise and the New Economics Foundation

The rapid emergence and development of Covid-19 has thrown the world into a crisis, the likes of which has not been seen in our lifetimes. The crisis has laid bare the UK’s structural inequalities and injustices. One of the most prominent is the disproportionately high number of migrant and BAME deaths due to the virus. Black people are four times more likely to die than white people, and Bangladeshi or Pakistani groups are three times more likely.

Our research presents new evidence of the inequalities faced by BAME and migrant communities. We demonstrate how the Government’s Hostile Environment immigration policies, along with other barriers, exacerbate these inequalities; and the role they play in preventing migrant and BAME people from accessing healthcare. We have identified urgently needed changes of policy and practice to help prevent deaths and suffering in these communities, which we have outlined below.

In mid-April, an undocumented Filipino migrant known as Elvis died at home with suspected coronavirus. He had lived and worked in the UK with his wife for more than 10 years, but was so scared by the hostility of Government policies that he did not seek any help from the NHS. He had suffered symptoms for two weeks. His death demonstrates that barriers to accessing healthcare for migrants have become exponentially more damaging during the pandemic.

The devastating consequences of the virus in these communities can only be curtailed if governments respond with inclusive measures designed to protect everyone’s right to life and to health. This must include all migrants, many of whom are disproportionately at risk of exclusion, stigma and discrimination, particularly when undocumented.

Medact, Migrants Organise, and the New Economics Foundation have undertaken crucial research to understand and raise awareness of barriers to healthcare for migrants during the coronavirus crisis, and to help inform the response to this emergency. We surveyed migrant and refugee support organisations and community groups from across the UK. We then undertook interviews with a subsection of respondents in order to gather further information.

Our research shows that:

  • Migrants are not coming forward for healthcare because of the Government’s Hostile Environment.
  • The coronavirus exemption from charging is not working.
  • Migrants face a wide range of additional barriers – including language and digital exclusions – to accessing care, including emergency services.

Photo: Patients Not Passports

If you value great public services, protecting the planet and reducing inequality, please support NEF today.

Make a one-off donation

£5 £10 £25 £50 £100

Make a monthly donation

£3 £5 £10 £25 £100