Improving asylum seekers' access to healthcare

New communities in Reading are getting quicker access to the NHS after we exposed their poor experiences.
Photo of refugee children supplied by Pixabay

At the start of the Covid pandemic, the government placed around 80 asylum seekers in a hotel in Reading as part of a plan to ensure they were living in safer and less crowded environments. 

But when we interviewed them, we found that in reality, they had experienced unsafe breaks in care and medication as a result of being moved from other parts of the UK and not being linked into local health services quick enough. 

Thanks to our outreach project, we were able to arrange urgent help for their health needs, bring their experiences to light, and change the way local services have responded to further new arrivials to our town.

Securing change for the better

  • After our report in 2020, the NHS and council agreed to jointly fund a caseworker at a local refugee charity to support the asylum seekers placed in a local hotel
  • In 2021, a new group of asylum seekers and refugees placed in Reading were registered more quickly with local GPs
  • In 2022, the NHS funded a mental health support worker to work with this group.

When we went to meet 43 of the group, we discovered that a mass registration exercise with a GP surgery hadn't taken place until 16 weeks after they were first placed in Reading. This meant people couldn’t access repeat prescriptions they’d been started on elsewhere for medicines like insulin for diabetes.

Many of the people we spoke to were in pain but had no cash to buy over-the-counter medication like paracetamol, and our staff had to directly support them to get urgent health appointments or emergency prescriptions.

The findings of our interviews were discussed at a meeting in public by councillors and health leaders, covered in the local media and raised in parliament by a local MP. 

A range of changes has since followed to improve the experience of current and new asylum seekers and refugees in Reading. We're continuing to work with Reading Refugees Support Group to ensure asylum seekers' rights to healthcare are upheld.

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