Failed asylum seekers now have access to hospitals in Wales

Amnesty International describes it as a "bold move" and a mark of a humane society

16th July 2009: Failed asylum seekers now have access to hospitals in Wales, as amendments in the regulations announced by Health Minister Edwina Hart last month have come into force from 15th July.

Even as Amnesty International hailed the development, the advocates for several mentally-ill illegal immigrants asserted their clients get limited mental health care while they are in the prison.

They believe the detention facilities do not, without fail, follow the prescribed mental-health standards. More often than not, adequate number of mental-health workers are not there to take care of the detainees suffering from mental illness. As per estimates, the percentage of such detainees is 15.

Applauding the bold move to provide failed asylum seekers access to hospitals, Programme-Director Amnesty International Wales Cathy Owens, said there were some people seeking safety here in Wales. Their case may ultimately not be successful, but for many reasons it was impossible for them to return home. Treating them with respect was a mark of a humane society.

Asserting the move would positively impact upon human rights here in Wales, Owens added if the failed asylum seekers became sick or were suffering from a long-term illness, or were pregnant, they should not be turned away from Welsh hospitals.

Amnesty International had worked with a coalition in Wales to press for the changes ahead of the 2007 Assembly elections. It was a part of its `Keep a Welcome’ campaign.

The development is significant as only recently, three judges at the Court of Appeal had ruled failed asylum seekers could not receive free treatment on the NHS. Hospitals could however decide themselves whether to treat such individuals, if they had no money, the judges said.

Lord Justice Ward said the patient must have resided lawfully in the UK for at least a year to receive free health service treatment.

The case was brought by a Palestinian asylum seeker, who was under investigation over his asylum claim. The appeal judges ruled hospitals do have the discretion to provide free treatment to penniless failed asylum seekers.

Lord Justice Ward said the government’s guidance for chargeable patients was to seek a deposit for the full cost of the treatment, but it offered no guidance on what happens when the deposit cannot be paid.

"No help is given in the case of those who cannot return home before the treatment does become necessary. What is to happen to the patient who cannot wait?" he asked.

"My conclusion is that it is implicit in the guidance that there is a discretion to withhold treatment but there is also discretion to allow treatment to be given when there is no prospect of paying for it."

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