Report concludes contingency asylum accommodation is unsafe and is leaving people without treatment
Doctors of the World UK and University of Birmingham: Asylum seekers housed in temporary accommodation are not receiving adequate and appropriate healthcare
09 May 2022
A brief new report published last month by Doctors of the World UK (DOTW UK) and the University of Birmingham details concerns over the provision of healthcare for asylum seekers housed in temporary initial and contingency accommodation.
The 14-page report can be downloaded here.
As the report notes, the Home Office's use of initial and contingency accommodation, such as former military barracks and hotels, has increased greatly since 2019. In February 2022, an estimated 37,000 asylum seekers were being housed in this type of accommodation, including 12,000 resettled from Afghanistan.
DOTW UK provides advocacy and healthcare services to asylum seekers in initial/contingency accommodation, both face-to-face and remotely. The report is based on data collected from users of these services at Napier barracks in Kent and at two hotels where asylum seekers are housed. Information was collected for 380 individual cases.
Overall, the report finds that initial/contingency accommodation is unsafe for asylum seekers due to a lack of access to adequate and appropriate healthcare. People with acute conditions are not receiving timely care. In addition, the poor living conditions encountered in this type of accommodation exacerbates and generates mental and potentially physical health problems.
DOTW UK and the University of Birmingham explained: "Our analysis of data shows people in initial/contingency accommodation had a broad range of unmet health needs. Despite the intention of a maximum stay in accommodation for 35 days it was clear that the majority of service users had been in the UK and the accommodation for more than this time, often many months. There were many examples of how the accommodation conditions did not meet basic human standards, which add to the existing evidence base that such conditions contributed to, and may have caused, poor health. Conditions included poor food, poor access to basic sanitary products, inability to store medication or have professionals visit to provide care."
Asylum seekers reported that they faced a number of barriers to receiving healthcare, including a lack of knowledge about the healthcare system, language barriers, and administrative barriers.
The report states: "Case worker notes showed that service users who were registered with GPs, and even receiving hospital care, still struggled with access to healthcare. Reasons included lack of information about services or not knowing how systems worked. In many cases communication from services assumed not only knowledge of the English language, but also of how organisations functioned, and who to ask for help. Some service users could not use online appointment forms. Sometimes service users attended appointments but did not understand the outcome of the consultation. Often service users tried to get help from hotel staff without success. In one instance DOTW UK determined that a service user needed access to emergency care and the hotel refused to transport the service user or to call for an ambulance. In some instances professionals such as health visitors were reluctant to visit patients at the hotels, despite requests from DOTW UK. Access to dentists was particularly difficult when there was no NHS dentist in proximity to the accommodation."
Asylum seekers were unable to get prescriptions, and there was a lack of medical care even for children and pregnant women.
The lack of access to timely and continuous care meant people were left without treatment and were left to suffer on their own, the report added.
Dr Durga Sivasathiaseelan, Senior Lead for Outreach Services at DOTW UK, said: "It was shocking to realise that access to healthcare was not a priority when creating accommodation models for asylum seekers. I witnessed how this led to huge unmet health needs."
Anna Miller, Head of Policy and Advocacy at DOTW UK, warned that new Nationality and Borders Act will increase the use of unsuitable, military-style accommodation and will cause lasting and profound harm to the health and wellbeing of asylum seekers.
The Guardian reported that the Home Office rejected the report's findings.
A Home Office spokesperson was quoted as saying: "We reject these claims. Napier barracks is safe and we treat the welfare of those in our care with the utmost importance and sensitivity. … There is 24/7 medical support for asylum seekers at Napier barracks, including a prescribing nurse, dental care on site and access to local GP services, which includes mental health support. Individuals at all our immigration removal centres are brought to the attention of medical staff and, once screened, can receive clinical pathways to healthcare services depending on their needs."