Migrant charges “unworkable”, say paediatricians

NHS charging regulations for migrants are “unworkable” and are having a detrimental impact on the wider health system says a new paper published in BMJ Paediatrics Open today.

The paper comes at a time of heightened awareness of the vital role that immigration plays in our NHS and services that support its work, in light of COVD-19.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) conducted a survey of over 200 members on their experience of the impact of the regulations in January and February 2019.

The survey found that NHS charging regulations are having direct and indirect impacts on migrant children and pregnant women, with evidence of a broad range of harms.

The paper reports a lack of understanding of current NHS charging regulations among healthcare staff - 94% of survey respondents said they were not confident about which health conditions are exempt from charging regulations. Survey results also showed that paediatricians feel that the regulations conflict with their professional and ethical responsibilities to provide the best possible clinical care for patients.

The UK Government has suspended charging regulations for any patient being treated with COVID-19. The RCPCH says this should be maintained for all healthcare needs and in future months, as we move out of this period.

In response to the survey findings, the paper recommends that all current NHS charging regulations should be revoked, and that the Government should commission an independent review of the impact of the regulations. 

Dr Alison Steele, Officer for Child Protection at the RCPCH, said:

This policy has, sadly, placed vulnerable groups at risk of worsened health outcomes as they choose to delay or deter seeking treatment. Our members tell us they know personally of patients that have been adversely impacted by overseas charging regulations.

Paediatricians also don’t feel confident in identifying patients that should be exempt from charges. Only 12% of respondents to our survey had been given training on this. These regulations are not workable for health care practitioners on the front line of our NHS.

The RCPCH is calling on the Government to reverse all overseas charging regulations to protect our most vulnerable patients.

The RCPCH will continue to host an online evidence submission for cases where the charging regulations have impacted patient care or outcomes and encourage health professionals to contribute.