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How to get medical help in London: Mayor launches leaflet to support migrants’ registration with GPs

Many migrants fail to register with a GP either because they are unaware of their eligibility or because they are wrongly turned away. The Mayor of London, with partner organisations has published a leaflet on how to access primary healthcare in London that should support migrants and other excluded groups in registering.

How can I get medical help in London The leaflet can be downloaded in nineteen languages here.    

For the last six months the Migrants’ Rights Network has been working with a group of partner organisations, including colleagues from Praxis and Project London, convened by the Greater London Authority to produce an information resource to raise awareness about primary care amongst migrants and asylum seekers and support them in registering with a GP.

The resulting leaflet has now been published and is being distributed at libraries, hospitals and migrant community organisations throughout London. The leaflet is called ‘How can I get medical help in London?’ and is written in easy to understand prose, touching upon:

  • What is a GP
  • How to register with a GP
  • What to do if refused
  • Alternatives for non-registered individuals
  • What to do in case of an emergency

The leaflet is part of the Mayor’s Integration Strategy’s actions on health and seeks to address the gap in registration for primary care amongst sections of the migrant population. Failure to register with a GP has serious consequences: for migrants, for the NHS and for health inequalities. Many migrants fail to register because they do not know how the NHS works; because they may be in good health and not see the need to do so; or because they have been refused or fear they will be.

For numerous health problems early detection and treatment is vital and therefore failure to see a GP may have harmful consequences for individual migrants. But it also has consequences for the NHS because non-registered patients often end up in A&E wards or with serious health issues which are much more expensive to treat. Another consequence of migrants failing to register for primary care is that areas with large numbers of unregistered patients may end up with poorer health indicators, widening the already significant health inequalities between different areas.

The leaflet aims to make migrants aware of the importance of registering with a GP and to provide information on the way to do this. In this sense it is a straightforward awareness-raising and information resource. However, beyond this, it aims to bring some clarity amongst migrants, migrant-support organisations and health practitioners on access to healthcare. This is an area where there is a lot of confusion both on the part of service-providers and within migrant communities.

Much of the confusion hinges on whether visitors, overstayers and failed asylum seekers can register as an NHS patient with a GP. While GPs have some discretion in accepting new patients, people seeking to register do not legally have to prove their identity or immigration status to register with a practice. If somebody is refused they may ask the GP practice to give their reasons in writing and GPs must ensure that they are not treating people differently due to their nationality or ethnic background.

This means that, for the time being, long-term migrants should be able to register for primary care irrespective of their immigration status. A more lengthy discussion of the rules of access to health and a justification of why universal coverage makes sense can be found here in a previous MRN blog and briefing: http://www.migrantsrights.org.uk/migration-pulse/2011/access-primary-health-care-migrants-right-worth-defending

There is evidence, however, that many migrants still find it difficult to register either because they are wrongly turned away from GP practices or because are under the impression that they are not eligible for it.

This leaflet is a resource that should help in some measure to redress this gap. The leaflet is available online in nineteen languages. We encourage groups working with migrants to make use of it as a resource to encourage wider registration amongst their users.

You can find the leaflet in all languages here:  http://www.london.gov.uk/publication/access-to-health

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