Refugees and asylum seekers may experience problems with their health in the UK and barriers to receiving appropriate treatment and care

Young male and project worker leaning over fence

Many people living in the UK find it impossible to access mainstream health services, despite being fully entitled to them, due to fear, not knowing the system, having to pay charges or being wrongly turned away by frontline healthcare staff.

It is important that health care professionals are fully informed about the entitlements to health care of refugees and asylum seekers.

Refugees and asylum seekers, along with their dependents, are fully entitled to receive health care through NHS primary care, secondary care, accident and emergency care and NHS walk-in centres. This includes the right to register with a GP and NHS dentists (although some dental treatment and prescriptions may still have a charge). 

NHS healthcare

The NHS is a residence-based healthcare system and therefore a person is eligible for free NHS hospital care if they are 'ordinarily resident' in the UK.

Nationals of countries outside the European Economic Area (EEA) must have indefinite leave to remain in the UK in order to be ordinarily resident. A person who is ordinarily resident in the UK should not be charged for NHS hospital services.

The charging regulations place a legal obligation on NHS trusts, NHS foundation trusts and local authorities in the exercise of public health functions in England, to establish whether a person is an overseas visitor to whom charges apply, or whether they are exempt from charges.

NHS services are not included in the list of ‘public funds’ outlined in the immigration rules - therefore if a person has leave to enter or remain which is subject to the ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition, this is not breached if they receive NHS support. However, some NHS services are not provided free of charge, if a person has outstanding payments to be made for these NHS charges then their immigration application for leave to remain may be refused.

The ‘immigration health surcharge’ may need to be paid as part of an immigration application. The health surcharge was introduced for all new applications for entry clearance or leave to remain made on or after 6 April 2015. 

NHS services

The following services are free at the point of use for all patients. A charge cannot be made or recovered from any overseas visitor for:

  • Accident and emergency (A&E) services -  this includes all A&E services provided at an NHS hospital, e.g. those provided at an accident & emergency department, walk-in centre or urgent healthcare centre. This does not include those emergency services provided after the overseas visitor has been accepted as an inpatient, or at a follow-up outpatient appointment, for which charges must be levied unless the overseas visitor is exempt from charge in their own right.
  • Family planning services
  • Diagnosis and treatment of specified infectious diseases
  • Diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections
  • Treatment required for a physical or mental condition caused by torture, female genital mutilation, domestic violence or sexual violence, except where the overseas visitor has travelled to the UK for the purpose of seeking that treatment.

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