Changes to the provision of NHS treatment have very recently come into effect.
The Diocesan Refugee Support Group have been very concerned about this and asked the facilitator, Lucy Irven, to write to all MP’s across the Leeds Diocese to spell out their concerns.
Below we reproduce the text of the letter sent to Government MP’s and we would encourage you to write similar letters to your own MP’s about this matter.  At the bottom of this article as well as being able to download template letters you can also download the Briefing Paper prepared by Asylum Matters if you want more background information. If enough people take part it could have a real impact and get elements of these changes removed.
18 October 2017
Dear <name of MP>
I am writing to raise our grave concerns about the potential impacts of an amendment to the NHS charging regulations which was laid before Parliament on 19 July and is due to take effect next week and to ask for your help with challenging this.
The Diocese of Leeds Refugee Support Group was formed in October 2015 following the dramatic increase in refugee arrivals in the UK as a result of the crisis in Syria and the Middle East. The Pope asked that the Catholic Community take particular care of the migrant population, calling on our generosity and solidarity to recognise and act upon our common humanity in response to the growing crisis.

Since then, the Diocesan Refugee Support Group has been working in various ways to support the refugee population in our area. There are four pre-existing organisations which make up this group – Catholic Care, St Monica’s Housing, the St Vincent de Paul Society and the Leeds Justice and Peace Commission. In addition, many of the clergy, deacons, religious men and women and parishioners from across the Diocese are involved in providing an enthusiastic and generous response in their local communities. You can see examples of this ‘faith in action’ in the attached newsletter.
The NHS Charging regulations, which govern how people access healthcare in England and when they have to pay for it, will be subject to two significant changes.

Firstly, charges will be introduced for services provided by all community health organisations in England, except GP surgeries. This includes community mental health, health visiting, community midwifery, and school nurses.

Secondly, the regulations introduce up-front charging, which means that every hospital department in England will be legally required to check every patient’s paperwork before treating them. If a patient cannot prove that they are entitled to free care, they will receive an estimated bill for their treatment and will have to pay it in full before they receive any treatment other than that which is ‘urgent’ or ‘immediately necessary’.
We are concerned that these changes have been introduced without evaluation of their impact on health outcomes and health inequalities, and without a full and robust assessment of the long-term costs to the NHS. In particular, we would ask you to consider the following;

  • Up-front charging and the need to present paperwork proving eligibility for free care will increase barriers to healthcare for vulnerable groups – such as refugees, and people seeking asylum, who are eligible for free care, but will struggle to prove entitlement.
  • Additional bureaucracy will mean patient waiting times are likely to increase and there is a risk of racial profiling being used as a means to identify chargeable patients, leading to an increase in health inequalities.
    These measures will cost the NHS more money as the only way to check eligibility for free NHS services which does not contravene equality law is to check everyone. Reviewing every patient’s immigration status will be time-consuming, costly to administer and frustrating for both patients and NHS staff.
  • Confusion over who is entitled to free care will deter patients from seeking medical advice at an early stage, leading to mounting costs for the NHS as conditions become more complex and difficult to treat and there is a greater reliance on emergency services.
  • There is a risk that healthcare, including lifesaving care, will be withheld from those unable to prove their entitlement to free NHS treatment or able to pay up-front, causing needless human suffering.
  • Refused asylum seekers will be chargeable, but with no permission to work and often being entirely destitute, they will have no means of paying. Once again they will be reliant on the emergency services.
  • The extension of charging into community care services, coupled with the likelihood that public health services commissioned through Local Authorities will also be affected by the regulations will stop patients accessing the preventative care programmes which protect us all, such as immunisation programmes.

I am writing to ask you to help raise these concerns with the Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Jon Ashworth, and the Leader of the party, encouraging them to look carefully at the regulations and to urge some response.

Thank you for your support and please let us know of any action you are able to take on this matter. We would particularly welcome your news on any progress made that we can share with the parishes.

Yours sincerely

Lucy Irven,

Diocese of Leeds Refugee Group Facilitator

If you want to write your own letter then you can download some suitable wordings here:-

Government MP Letter Opposition MP letter Briefing Paper from Asylum Matters