Local NHS officials say they didn’t receive a national instruction to provide healthcare to dozens of asylum seekers until more than a month after first being told of their arrival in Reading.
The details emerged at the latest meeting of the Reading Health and Wellbeing Board, when Healthwatch Reading presented findings of our interviews with around half of the 80 asylum seekers moved to a local hotel under Covid arrangements.
Our chief executive, Mandeep kaur Bains, told the 19 March meeting of the board that the people we met had experienced unsafe delays in getting healthcare due to bureaucracy and lack of joined up working.
Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group, which oversees local doctors’ services, offered an apology at the meeting to Healthwatch Reading for not giving a detailed response to our findings when first requested. It said it wanted to clarify when it first knew about the asylum seekers being placed in Reading, during the first lockdown last year.
“We first became aware that the refugees were resident in the hotel on the 7th of May and we were then told that day there were 61 people in the hotel and that they’d been there since the 2nd and 3rd of May,” said Maureen McCartney, director of operations and urgent care at the CCG. “Our primary care team had a discussion with ClearSprings, who are the company that provided the accommodation and were told that the residents would be looked after by the London Immigration Assessment Centre and they were very likely only to be resident in Reading for a few days. So based on that information, we weren’t aware that we were required to organise registration with a general practice for them.”
Ms McCartney added: “On the 12th of June the CCG had a formal letter from NHS England advising us that we needed to put healthcare arrangements in place for the residents and we then sought clarification from the London Immigration Assessment Centre, who confirmed at that point that they no longer had the capacity to do that. So five days later on the 17th of June, the CCG arranged for the [Reading] Walk-In Centre to register the patients and I can also confirm that GPs from the Walk-In Centre, went into the hotel six times to hold clinics for the patients and to do their best to respond to their needs.”
All asylum seekers were moved out of the hotel by March 25, 2021. We had called for proper transition arrangements so they didn't experience a repeat of delayed healthcare as they arrive in other parts of the UK.
We are sending our findings to the Home Office.
Media spotlight on our report
Local media have featured the Healthwatch Reading report on asylum seekers. On March 17, BBC Radio Berkshire interviewed us and on March 25, the Reading Chronicle covered it (see picture, left).