“No human is illegal”: NHS staff speak out on Windrush

A junior doctor from #DocsNotCops, which campaigns against the extension of immigration controls into the health service, spoke to a demonstration on Saturday 28 April against the government’s treatment of the Windrush generation.

Demonstrators march from Parliament Square to the Home Office (Photo: Steve Eason)

I’m here speaking as a member of Docs Not Cops and as a doctor. Docs Not Cops campaigns for access to healthcare for all, so that no one is turned away from the NHS, and so that no one is afraid to access care. We campaign to stop doctors, nurses, anyone working in healthcare from being asked to act as border guards, asked to decide on the fate of their patients.

Immigration checks in the NHS are just one facet of the “hostile environment” that sees landlords, school teachers, university lecturers become “cops”, asked to carry out the Home Office’s policy of policing immigration.

Policing immigration in the NHS means for patient considered not “ordinary resident” upfront charges for non-urgent care, denial of care if you cannot pay, or retrospective charges for emergency care.

It also means that patient information gets shared with the Home Office via NHS Digital. If you cannot pay for the treatment you received, it will affect any future visa applications. This leaves people not only without the healthcare they need, but also too frightened to access care.

We are told these measures act as a deterrent, to stop migrants using “our” NHS, to save money.

Sara Burke, organiser of the demonstration (photo: Steve Eason)

In November last year, a man who was known as Albert Thompson to the media, suffering from prostate cancer, was told he could not continue to receive treatment unless he paid £54,000 upfront. Unable to pay, he was denied further care.

Fortunately Sylvester Marshall, whom we can now call by his real name, will now start to receive his treatment. But he is not the only case. One woman with precarious immigration status died after she was too frightened to seek treatment for pneumonia. Another man with lung cancer, similarly denied treatment at an early stage, died after his disease progressed. There are too many cases to list, but each one was a person who was frightened and ill.

Health is not a binary issue: it is often not possible to make a clear-cut distinction between “immediately necessary” and “non-urgent” care. As in Sylvester Marshall’s case, if a patient’s cancer treatment is denied or delayed because it is not considered to be “urgent”, they risk their condition deteriorating further. This is the difference between cancer that can be cured, and cancer that will kill.

All this is because he did not have access to a British Passport and came to live in Britain at a time when documentation of Commonwealth citizens was poor.

DocsNotCops address the demonstration outside the Home Office (photo: Steve Eason)

But “our” NHS is also Sylvester Marshall’s, his mother’s, and it is everyone’s who is in need. We are told that “health tourism”, the deliberate use of the NHS by migrants is 0.15% of the annual budget, between £200-300 million out of a £116 billion budget, which is dwarfed by the funding pressures in the NHS.

Behind this figure are not people screwing the system, but people who are in need. I say that is a figure worth paying to live in a civilized society.

The Government has pretended the treatment of the Wind-rush generation is an accident, that they never knew the impacts of destroying the landing cards. Instead, I think it is symptomatic of the government’s deliberate strategy of chaos to reduce immigration numbers at any cost, to make the rules so confusing, or impenetrable or just to delete any trace of the rules in order to make living in this country unbearable, and to get the numbers down.

The Government feels the pressure now to correct what harm it has done to the Windrush generation, but we cannot allow that to mean that the same policies of the “hostile environment” continue to plague the lives of our patients, our colleagues, friends or neighbours.

It is not a case of the deserving or undeserving migrant, those who contribute or those who are illegal. No person is illegal.

The demonstration was called by Sara Burke, the granddaughter of Windrush arrivals. She can be seen addressing the crowd in this video (credit: Steve Eason):


    The law was passed under Labor…. giving boarder agencies the power to have control….. UK Borders Act 2007
    This provided the UK Border Agency with powers to tackle illegal working and automatically deport some foreign nationals imprisoned for specific offences, or for more than one year.

    It gave immigration officers police-like powers, such as increased detention and a search-and-entry roles.

    The act brought in the power to create compulsory bio-metric cards for non-EU immigrants.

    2009 – Destruction of documents begins

    In June 2009, the UK Border Agency approved the business case for disposing of millions of paper records.

    The Home Office told us that it was then that the landing cards – or “registry slips” as they’re officially known – were earmarked for destruction. The work began in December of that year.

    Alan Johnson was the Labour Home Secretary at the time. When asked if he knew that the registry slips were being destroyed, he said: “No, it was an administrative decision taken by the UK Border Agency.”

    2010 – Registry slips destroyed

    the decision was made in 2009, and the registry slips were disposed of. The Home Office described this to us as an “operational decision”.

    Theresa May was Home Secretary at the time, but we haven’t seen evidence either way to suggest that she knew about, or signed off, the decision.


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