Earlier this summer, LRMN, along with the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, gained national coverage in major newspapers after highlighting the damaging approach to charging “overseas” patients for healthcare. The LRMN press release looked at the results of an inquiry by the Lewisham and Greenwich Trust (LGT) into how they cared for patients not covered by the NHS, and highlighted how damaging the policies were.
LRMN outlined how, in one case study submitted to the inquiry, a patient retold how they screamed and fell to their knees when they received their invoice for £15,480 for life-saving maternity care. At the time, this patient was living in supported accommodation and had no income. “It wasn’t something that I was expecting,” she told the Observer. “When I opened it to read I remember slumping on the foot of the stairs and just screaming. I had a panic attack at that point because I was like, ‘How do I afford this? Where do I start from?’”
Another patient told the inquiry how their blood pressure rose after hearing they were being charged for their stay in hospital. The news was delivered just hours after giving birth and they were forced to extend their time in the ward as a direct result of the impact of the £6,000 charge on their stress levels.
One patient, interviewed by Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network, said: “I was charged about £7,000. I was staying in one room accommodation and I couldn’t even afford a payment plan to pay back the debt. There were threats that they were going to report me to the Home Office and I received calls every day. This was at the same time that my child was diagnosed with autism.”
In their coverage of this story, both the Guardian and the Independent highlighted the fact that “the situation in the south London trust is symptomatic of broader mistreatment of vulnerable migrants and overseas visitors who are at the mercy of legislation requiring the NHS to pursue them for the costs of non-emergency treatment.”
Hera Lorandos of the Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network said to the Guardian: “The charging practices of Lewisham and Greenwich NHS trust do not exist in a vacuum; they mirror the practices of many other trusts across the UK. The practices are an inherent result of the hostile environment legislation which forces NHS trusts into becoming border guards.
“Trusts now have to demand documentation, force people into crippling debt, deny treatment and share patient information with the Home Office. This only serves to break the promises of universal healthcare, inevitably spreading fear and distrust that prevents many from getting lifesaving healthcare.
“We welcome the measures the trust has taken to reduce the damage the policy causes, but we remain resolved to end this discriminatory and harmful policy completely.”
The LGT report outlined 39 recommendations to improve the Trust’s NHS charging practices, the majority of which were accepted. These include reviewing and improving their patient literature to clarify the regulations, writing off debt for people facing destitution, and committing to training on the impact of the charging legislation on patients.
In the report, the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust said: “The Trust sincerely regrets, and apologises for, any instances where patients were not treated with compassion, or in a manner consistent with the values of Trust.”
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