Patients who are using hospital care could now be required to provide proof of their immigration status under the new rules introduced on 6 April 2015.
Documentation may be required from patients when their immigration status is in doubt and they may face questions on their residence in the UK, according to the guidance. GP services, as well as Accident & Emergency (A&E) services, will remain free but patients will face questioning where possible.
The guidance recognises the need for such questioning to be conducted in a non-discriminatory manner and pre-empts concerns regarding racial discrimination and racial profiling, reminding medical practitioners of their legal obligations. The hope is that staff will have the requisite training but it is alarming that they may also face additional pressures, as there are new financial sanctions for trusts that fail to identify and recover costs from patients.
These changes bring a number of fresh concerns for those with an uncertain immigration status, including the possibility that migrants may take risks with their health. This is a very real concern as Doctors of the World UK report that "One-fifth of [patients] tell us they did not seek a doctor's help because they are afraid they might be arrested, and in 2015 that's unthinkable," as cited by The Guardian.
The guidance reveals that the duty of patient confidentiality does not include non-clinical data about a patient, which means information relating to immigration status can be shared with the Home Office without the consent of the individual. We encourage individuals with an uncertain status to seek legal advice on regularising their immigration status.
Fears for the impact on migrants are being pitted against concerns for the NHS, as the current costs in treating foreign nationals are in the millions - as reported by The Guardian. The changes aim to focus on recovering costs from those who are not entitled to free healthcare in the UK.
There are fee exemptions, including for those who have paid the health surcharge, who will be exempt whilst their leave remains valid. For individuals concerned about their immigration status, the impact of these changes, and any other NHS charges relating to their immigration status, please contact us to discuss your individual circumstances.