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When asylum seekers must get free care

I am writing in connection with your resource guide regarding overseas visitors' eligibility to receive free primary care which stated only refugees with leave to stay in the country were eligible to receive free primary health care.

In fact all asylum seekers have until now been eligible to receive free primary and secondary health care, not just those who have received a positive decision. Currently all asylum seekers who are still awaiting a final decision on their original claim or appeal are entitled to both primary and secondary care.

The Department of Health has recently issued new guidance in accordance with updated NHS (Charges to Overseas Visitors) regulations as eligibility for 'failed asylum seekers' ­ those who have exhausted all rights of appeal ­ has recently changed.

Failed asylum seekers retain full entitlement to primary care if they have been in the UK for more than a year. Failed asylum seekers who have been in the UK for less than a year are entitled only to emergency or immediately necessary treatment in primary care.

From April 1 failed asylum seekers are entitled only to emergency treatment in secondary care, regardless of how much time they have been in the UK. If a person is already receiving free hospital treatment when their status changes ­ that is, if they fail in their asylum claim ­ this treatment will continue to be given free of charge. But any new course of treatment for a different condition will be subject to charges.

It is important to highlight this so your readers are aware of people's eligibility. Otherwise asylum seekers, many of whom are extremely vulnerable and who may also be survivors of torture, are liable to be denied the health care to which they are entitled.

Dr Angela Burnett

Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture

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