HThousands of undocumented migrants risk being prevented from booking Covid vaccinations, it can be revealed, as general practitioners’ offices refuse to register them – in violation of official guidelines.
The NHS tells patients to sign up for Covid jabs through their GP, or, if they book online, requires them to provide their NHS number, which would normally be issued by a GP. But a survey of The independent and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that less than a quarter of all UK GPs would register someone without ID, even though NHS England policy says documentation is not required.
When asked to register a fictitious patient who could not provide identity documents, some 62 percent of surgeries refused entirely, while 14 percent said they were unsure. to be able to do it.
Ministers said in February that everyone would have access to vaccines “regardless of immigration status”. But our results indicate that, with up to 1.2 million undocumented immigrants in the UK, hundreds of thousands cannot register with GPs and therefore cannot book a jab, leaving them more. vulnerable to both the coronavirus and the wider effects of the pandemic.
Experts said this risked undermining the roll-out of immunization, blaming “structural and institutional barriers” to healthcare resulting from hostile environment policies designed to block access to services.
A woman with precarious status – a domestic worker and alleged victim of modern slavery – recounted The independent she had been turned away three times since March 2021 when trying to register with general practitioners’ offices because she could not show documents.
âEvery time they said no and asked for my documents, I got more scared,â she said. âI tried to explain that I had to register to get the vaccine, but they kept saying that it was not possible. “
There are several reasons why precarious migrants may find themselves without proof of address or identity: their documents may have been lost while traveling to the UK, or stolen as part of the abuse they suffered. since their arrival in the country.
Undocumented migrants are prohibited from having UK bank accounts or renting, so they are unlikely to be able to produce bank statements or rental contracts as well.
Close from the system
Our investigation found that many practices also provided incorrect information to undocumented patients trying to register. Surgery, in Luton, told a caller trying to register a dummy patient: ‘She won’t be able to get the vaccine until she has an NHS number’, while surgery in Birmingham has said: “We wouldn’t be able to administer the vaccine if it didn’t have UK status.
In Coventry they were asked: ‘I take it she doesn’t plan to go back to her own country anytime soon? And then: “Unless otherwise advised, which we haven’t been so far, then there’s no way for her to get the shot if she doesn’t have an NHS number.”
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Anna Miller, policy and advocacy manager at Doctors of the World UK, which ensures that people without immigration status can access healthcare, said the vaccine rollout highlighted existing problems with the system.
âIt reflects our daily experience. The immunization program has shown not only that people do not have access to primary care, but that they have been completely outside the health system, âshe said.
The fact that a large portion of the undocumented population is not vaccinated presents both risks to their own health – especially since these people often have jobs that involve exposure to others – and a risk. for public health, Ms. Miller said.
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“This risks undermining the entire vaccination program and our shared protection against Covid and the new variants,” she added.
Shadow Immigration Minister Bambos Charalambous said it was “misguided” of the government to deprive anyone of vaccinations, and called on ministers to “ensure that no one is left behind”.
Luton was the area where general surgeries were least likely to register an undocumented person, with none of the surgeries contacted agreeing to register the sham patient. Those in Manchester were the most likely to register patients, although the figure is still below 50%.
In 113 of the calls, surgeons were asked if they could suggest other vaccination options for the fictitious patient. More than half of those surgeries said they were unaware of any other options or that the patient would not be eligible to receive the vaccine, either because they did not have an NHS number or because of their status as a ‘immigration.
The other option for undocumented migrants is to go to a walk-in vaccination center, where they do not need to be registered with a general practitioner or provide proof of address, but these clinics do not exist in all areas as there is no obligation for local authorities to provide them. Experts said the “patchwork nature” of the layout means that it does not present a complete solution.
Sham, a resident domestic worker from the Philippines who has lived in the UK since 2018, attempted to register with a GP for the first time in March 2021. Since her initial six-month visa expired, the 30-year-old woman did not have immigrant status and claims her abusive former employer still has her passport.
She said: âI travel to and from my job every day. I thought, I really need this vaccination. I thought if I had Covid I couldn’t work; how to feed my family at home? ”
When Sham, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, called her local medical office, she said she was asked to provide documents to “prove she was not illegal here.” When she told the receptionist that her passport had been taken by an abusive employer, she was turned away and asked to return when she could show identification.
She tried again, twice, but received the same response each time. Eventually, she went for three and a half hours to a walk-in clinic in Tower Hamlets, east London, last month.
âI was really scared, but I didn’t want to give up. It was a long trip, but it was my only option, âshe said.
The Tower Hamlets clinic has had a “no questions asked” policy since June 19. On the day it opened, around 1,000 people came from London and beyond to receive a jab.
Tracy Cannell, managing director of Tower Hamlets GP Care Group, said that of those vaccinated on the day it opened, 80% chose not to give out their contact details, indicating they were likely undocumented.
âThese are people who don’t want to hang their heads over the parapet,â she said. âIt’s the hidden group that we know a lot less about. They want the vaccination to be safe, but they also want to be safe in other ways.
Experts said some undocumented workers had been turned off trying to get vaccinated due to fear generated by the government’s hostile environmental policy, which introduced a package of measures in 2012 to block access to basic services. for people without UK immigration status. .
One of them was a memorandum of understanding between the NHS Digital, the Department of Health and the Home Office which meant that patient data could be shared and potentially used to identify those to be deported. This was stopped in 2018, but the fear remains.
Dr Deepti Gurdasani, clinical epidemiologist at Queen Mary University in London, said there were “clear structural and institutional barriers” to ensure that everyone could access immunization – and that this was “in large part. party ‘the result of the harsh environment.
Earlier this year, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi assured Parliament that, as there is no cost for the vaccine for people living in the UK, no proof of residency or immigration status is needed.
In response to our investigation, a government spokesperson said The independent that Covid vaccines were ‘available to all adults living in the UK’, and that the government was working closely with the NHS and local authorities to contact people, including migrants, who were not registered with GP or who might not have an NHS number, to make sure they were offered a jab.
But Dr Gurdasani said it was only an “empty statement” and the government had done “very little” to ensure that vaccines were available to all. âThe reality on the ground is very different,â she added.