Health charges could affect victims of FGM, domestic abuse and trafficking

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CSAN, the social action arm of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has warned that new charges for migrants using the NHS could undermine the government’s fight against FGM, domestic abuse and human trafficking.

The Department of Health is proposing to strengthen the system of charging undocumented migrants, failed asylum seekers and short-term visitors, including those requiring Accident and Emergency services. Trafficking victims will not be charged but there are concerns about how they will be identified in practice.

Crossbench amendments to the Immigration Bill expected to be debated later today, would exempt patients requiring treatment for injuries sustained as a result of FGM or domestic abuse from all charges; and would require the Home Secretary to set out a strategy for identifying people who have been trafficked.

CSAN Chief Executive Helen O’Brien explained:

“The government has shown a consistently strong commitment to tackling these appalling crimes, but risks undermining progress by introducing measures that could deter victims from accessing healthcare. Many migrants are already uncertain about their eligibility for medical treatment and there are difficulties identifying where exemptions do apply. It is vital to send a clear message that anyone who has suffered in this way will get the help they need.”

And highlighting the wider potential consequences added:

“There is a real danger that if victims are worried about being hit with large charges for medical treatment they will simply not go to hospital. This would make it harder for the authorities to identify where abuse or criminal activities are taking place.”