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Suspend NHS data sharing with Home Office to improve Covid vaccine uptake among migrants, campaign group says


By James Hacker
9 February 2021

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The health system must become more accessible to migrants for the UK’s Covid vaccination strategy to be a success, a campaign group has said.

In a report published yesterday (8 February), the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) warned that a strategy that relies on people being registered with a GP ‘cannot occur while the health system is designed to discourage migrants from interacting with it’.

It comes after the JCWI’s survey of 310 migrants found more than half (56%) who hold refugee status said they would be scared to access healthcare in the UK.

Respondents cited concerns that the NHS would share data with the Home Office, which could result in them being targeted by immigration enforcement, the JCWI said.

The report called on the Government to suspend charging and data sharing systems within the NHS, which is claimed were both ‘designed from the ground up’ to deter migrants.

Accessing care during Covid

Conducted between December 2020 and January 2021, the survey also found 43% of respondents would be afraid to access healthcare during the pandemic.

The fear of accessing healthcare was greater among Black and minority ethnic (BME) groups, the JCWI found, which it said was ‘alarming’ in the context of new data on lower vaccination uptake in BME communities compared to white communities.

Among migrants surveyed from African or Caribbean countries and from Asian countries, 60% and 56% respectively said they feared accessing healthcare.

The report comes nearly a year after JCWI and several charities wrote to the Home Secretary Priti Patel warning that any hostile policies in the NHS would stunt public health interventions.

Suspending information sharing

To improve migrants’ access to healthcare, the campaign group recommended the suspension of all NHS charging regulations during the pandemic.

The recommendation is based on a separate study, published in 2018, which found that some temporary migrants are liable to be charged up to 150% of costs for secondary care interventions.

JCWI also suggested the suspension of all information sharing between the NHS and the Home Office and ensure that no data collected at this time is subject to sharing in future.

The suspensions would need to be supported by a public outreach campaign, which highlights  that there is no risk of someone being charged for healthcare, having their data shared with the Home Office, and that every person in the UK is able to register with a GP, it said.

‘Such a campaign cannot happen unless that assurance is watertight,’ it said, adding that the fear of accessing healthcare is ‘too embedded and, in too many cases, justified’.

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