Help us to Keep The Lights On for another decade! Back the Cable
The Bristol Cable

Bristol council and organisations demand equal vaccine access and end to healthcare ‘hostile environment’ for migrants

The national campaign says a recent government announcement isn’t enough to protect individuals and help the wider effort to tackle coronavirus.

Coronavirus in Bristol

Photo: Bristol Patients Not Passports (2019)

The government has today announced that all residents in the UK, regardless of immigration status, will have access to Covid-19 vaccines without immigration checks or charges. However, hundreds of organisations nationally, including the council, Bristol faith groups, charities, medical professionals are calling for more far-reaching action to protect individuals and public health. 

Campaigners fear that despite the announcement of an ‘amnesty’, years of aggressive immigration policies known as the ‘hostile environment’ have put barriers in the way of asylum seekers and other undocumented people taking up the vaccine. With up to 1.2 million people living in the UK without official documentation, this could reduce vaccine take up, putting individuals, the NHS and the wider effort to tackle the pandemic at risk. 

Local organisations such as the Bristol Council of Mosques, Avon Fire Brigades Union, Bristol Protect Our NHS, the Royal College of Midwives North Bristol Branch, the South West Trades Union Congress and Bristol Refugee Rights joined the call led by Patients not Passports, a coalition of NHS workers and activists pushing for equal access to healthcare for all. 

James Skinner, a former NHS nurse and campaigner with Medact, said: “Today’s announcement by the government is a clear admission that the hostile environment is incompatible with public health. 

“At the start of the pandemic, we warned that the fear created by NHS charging and data sharing would prevent migrant communities accessing treatment for coronavirus, yet it has taken almost a year for the government to even acknowledge the harm these policies are causing.”

Referring to the ongoing practice of charging migrants to use the NHS, including those who work within the health service, Skinner said: “It will be hard for anyone to trust these assurances from the government while the rest of the NHS continues to charge people for care and share patient data with the Home Office.”

In order to address fears that patients may have, which include concerns about data sharing with immigration enforcement leading to detention and possible removal from the country, the campaign is calling for a complete withdrawal of hostile environment policies in the NHS. 

Anna Miller of campaigners Doctors of the World said: “While we welcome the government proactively encouraging migrants to come forward to register with a GP and receive the vaccine, and GP practices to register patients, this exemption doesn’t go far enough to undo the fear and mistrust created by the hostile environment.”

Another demand is a public information campaign to build trust and encourage take up within communities affected most by the hostile environment, including the Windrush generation and more recent migrants and asylum seekers. This is particularly important given higher levels of hesitancy to receive the vaccine among BAME communities as a whole. 

Dr Tony O’Sullivan, retired paediatrician and co-chair of campaign group Keep Our NHS Public, said: “There must be no barrier of fear from accessing Covid vaccinations and NHS treatment. In the interests of human rights, the health and safety of the population and undocumented people, the hostile environment in the NHS must go now.”

Join 2,500 Cable members redefining local media

Your support will help the Cable grow, deepening our connections in the city and investigating the issues that matter most in our communities.

Join now

What makes us different?


Post a comment

Mark if this comment is from the author of the article

By posting a comment you agree to our Comment Policy.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related content

‘Rwanda is just one part of the government’s latest attack on asylum seekers’

Bristol Refugee Rights outlines the stark impact of the Nationality and Borders Act on asylum seekers – from dodgy age assessments to going underground.

Bristol rallies to save beloved Big Issue seller Jeff Knight

Jeff, who’s been in Bristol for nearly 20 years, is building a legal case to bring to the Home Office after finding out he may be at future risk of deportation.

The council pledges to not cooperate with Home Office targeting of migrant rough sleepers

Bristol City Council joins other local authorities and charities in defiance of controversial Home Office plans.

Local politicians, unions and organisations reject Government’s new ‘anti-refugee’ immigration law

The mayor and dozens of other local voices have spoken out in an open letter against the proposed Nationality and Borders Bill.

Revealed: Fresh concerns over potential racial profiling of British citizens by Home Office prompt renewed calls for change

British citizens are again topping the list of nationalities being stopped and checked by immigration enforcement officers.

Lockdown gave a safety net for Bristol’s hidden homeless… But many remain on the street this time round

Bristol's response to the Everyone In scheme offered a lifeline to people with no recourse to public funds (NRPF), but those who have become homeless since the first lockdown haven't had the safety net this time around, despite calls from homelessness charities to provide for rough sleepers.

Join our newsletter

Get the essential stories you won’t find anywhere else

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter to get our weekly round-up direct to your inbox every Saturday

Join our newsletter

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter

Get our latest stories & essential Bristol news
sent to your inbox every Saturday morning