London mayor calls for free NHS care for all UK residents to help ‘prevent another Windrush scandal’

·5-min read
Sadiq Khan has repeatedly warned about the dangers of poor air quality (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)
Sadiq Khan has repeatedly warned about the dangers of poor air quality (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)

The Mayor of London has urged the government to make for the NHS access free for everyone living in the UK to prevent another Windrush scandal.

As the nation observes Windrush Day, Sadiq Khan urged the government to end its hostile environment policy and curb NHS charging regulations for migrants, which impact undocumented Londoners as they struggle to prove their immigration status to get free healthcare.

This policy disproportionately affects patients from Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority backgrounds and ending it would prevent a repeat of the situation that saw members of the Windrush Generation being charged for treatment - or denied - the mayor argues.

“This Windrush Day, I want to pay tribute to the way that the Windrush Generation has helped to make our city what it is today,” the mayor said.

“Their incredible contribution to our lives must always be valued and never be forgotten, yet the disgraceful treatment they have faced from the government and the delay in delivering compensation continues to shame our nation.

“It is unacceptable that today undocumented Londoners can struggle to access free healthcare due to worries about proving their immigration status, and that many migrant workers are effectively required to pay a double tax through the extortionate immigration health surcharge.

“The government must end its hostile environment now and ensure that everyone living in the UK can access healthcare for free – before they create another Windrush scandal.”

The scandal erupted in 2018 when thousands of British citizens, mostly from the Caribbean and disproportionately from Jamaica, were wrongly detained, deported or threatened with deportation, despite having the right to live, work, receive benefits and access healthcare in Britain.

Currently some migrants can face being charged upfront fees for healthcare that is not deemed urgent or immediately necessary, or be charged retrospectively for urgent treatment.

This can also affect Londoners who should be exempt but struggle to navigate the complex system to prove their eligibility for free healthcare, while the extortionate immigration health surcharge on visa applications means that many migrants effectively pay tax twice for their healthcare.

Dexter Bristol, who had been suffering from ‘extreme stress’, collapsed and died from heart failure outside his home (Sentina Bristol)
Dexter Bristol, who had been suffering from ‘extreme stress’, collapsed and died from heart failure outside his home (Sentina Bristol)

This call follows cases such as that of Dexter Bristol, who died of heart failure in 2018, was under “extreme stress” and hadn’t visited his GP since August 2016 due to issues with his uncertain immigration status.

Another member of the Windrush generation, whose name is not publicly known, was refused cancer treatment after living in the UK for more than 40 years, a court has heard.

Pauline Pennant, a former NHS worker who had lived in the UK for over 30 years, was billed £4,388 for cancer treatment after being wrongly quizzed about her immigration status while on her sick bed at Croydon University Hospital.

Some 23 Windrush scandal victims have died before receiving compensation from the government, according to offical figures.

Labour MP Diane Abbott recently accused ministers of waiting for this cohort to pass away instead of improving the compensation scheme which, plagued by delays and “unreasonable requests for evidence” has been slammed by cross-party MPs as a “damning indictment”.

Home Office figures show that less than half of the people who have applied for compensation have received a final decision.

Research has shown that patients from Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority backgrounds are more likely to be targeted for an immigration status check than white patients due to racial profiling, while immigration status is also associated with delayed access to maternity services. Black women are currently four times more likely to die during childbirth, or from pregnancy complications, than their white counterparts.

By ensuring that anyone who lives in the UK is able to access healthcare for free, this would prevent the estimated 397,000 undocumented Londoners missing out on vital treatment for fear of charges or impacting their immigration status.

It comes as the mayor has backed a coalition of Black and Asian public figures, including actor Lenny Henry and broadcaster Trevor Phillips, who are lobbying for next year’s Windrush Day, the 75th anniversary of the mass migration, to be recognised as a “major national moment”.

 (PA)
(PA)

Windrush Day was introduced in June 2018 on the 70th anniversary of the Windrush migration.

More than 100 leaders from politics, faith and civil society, sport, culture and business have signed a joint letter, published in The Times newspaper, starting the one-year countdown to the milestone.

“This is not only Black History – it is British history. It should be something we all know and commemorate,” the letter reads. “We call on the government and all UK institutions, from politics to civil society, faith, culture, business and sport, to step up and fully play their part next year.”

This comes as The Independent reported that a Windrush monument, to be unveiled at Waterloo station on Wednesday, is being met with boycotts amid ongoing calls for compensation for those affected by the Windrush scandal.

“While the monument is a great piece of art, the passage of another Windrush Day without any improvement to the Windrush Compensation Scheme is the real issue,” Ramya Jaidev, co-founder of Windrush Lives campaigning group, said.

“There is a place for commemoration of Windrush history, but that is all we have - monuments and warm speeches about the contributions of a generation of Black people who helped rebuild this country, while the descendants of those people are still suffering directly at the hands of the Home Office and its Hostile Environment.

“How does a statue, or even a Windrush Day, fix that?”

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