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Alan Johnson: 'Sheer inhumanity' of denying asylum seekers GP care

By Steve Nowottny

The Government looks certain to abandon plans to deny free GP treatment to failed asylum seekers, after the health secretary attacked their ‘sheer inhumanity'.

Alan Johnson told a BMA event last week he was opposed to controversial proposals to extend the restrictions that already exist in secondary care.

‘I don't think we should extend it to primary care, and neither does the medical expert group that have looked at this,' he said.

‘I understand all the points made by the clinicians we consulted, about the public health risks, the sheer inhumanity of refusing to treat people who are ill in primary care.'

Government sources suggested at the end of last year that the plans, drawn up jointly by the Home Office and the Department of Health, were to be reconsidered.

But Mr Johnson's unambiguous comments this week are the first public sign of a rethink – and mark a U-turn after years of wrangling a near-certainty.

Mr Johnson added: ‘We haven't come to a final decision on this within Government, but I know where I want to be on this.

‘I can imagine the GPs' surgery where they have to question people on their migrant status. It adds a layer of bureaucracy and great practical difficulties.'

Campaigners against the restriction were quick to welcome Mr Johnson's comments, which took many by surprise.

Dr Frank Arnold, clinical director of the Medical Justice Network, said: ‘The Health Secretary is to be congratulated on his humane and principled stance. It would be helpful if he could clarify the entitlement to primary care for undocumented migrants so GPs understand they are allowed to register them - and will be reimbursed.'

Dr Ron Singer, the GPC's Medical Practitioners Union representative and a GP in Edmonton, north London, congratulated the Health Secretary on his ‘road to Damascus' comments.

‘Some 25% of our current intake in our practice don't speak English. They're often the sickest patients that I ever see.'

But Dr Helen Groom, a GP in Sunderland, warned many undocumented migrants were already facing difficulties in accessing a GP.

‘NHS anti-fraud measures say they have to have a document which says what their name is and where they live - that's the difficulty.'

Health Secretary Alan Johnson Health Secretary Alan Johnson

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