Newham GP surgeries limit migrants' access to Covid-19 jabs, survey finds
BIJ & Jon King
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Undocumented immigrants who might not have proof of address or ID are being refused registration with GP surgeries, limiting their access to Covid-19 jabs, an investigation has found.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) has found that of 15 surgeries in Newham, nine would not register an undocumented person, four would and two were unsure.
Three of the GP practices which refused could not signpost to an alternative place to get a jab while three others did.
One of the surgeries surveyed incorrectly said the undocumented migrant would not be eligible for a vaccine.
Being refused registration removes the option of getting vaccinated by a surgery and of booking a jab appointment via the NHS website or 119 helpline, or getting an NHS number.
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The BIJ phoned 266 randomly-selected surgeries across the UK asking to register a patient who was female, in her 40s and undocumented.
Ten areas were selected based on where figures from the Office for National Statistics showed there are large numbers of people born outside the UK.
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A spokesperson for NHS North East London Clinical Commissioning Group (NEL CCG) said: "The government is clear that everyone in the UK is eligible for a Covid-19 vaccination.
"The NHS in north east London continues to work with local partners to encourage as many people as possible to come forward, with thousands already vaccinated, as well as work to support people get registered with a GP."
He pointed to the provision of jabs to thousands of people not registered with a GP and its work with Newham Training Hub and colleagues in primary care to promote a "safe surgeries" initiative set up by humanitarian movement Doctors of the World.
NEL CCG maintains it is using "clear" public information to help people without documentation or an NHS number find out how and where to get inoculated, with walk-in clinics available and no questions asked about identity.
A Newham Council spokesperson said: "We work closely with NHS partners to reduce any and all barriers to vaccination.
"Whether by accepting alternate forms of ID or waiving the need for proof of address, we work to ensure that anybody who shows up to fight the spread of Covid-19 can receive the vaccine."
Overall, less than a quarter (24pc) of all GP surgeries surveyed in cities across England, Wales and Scotland by the BIJ would register someone without proof of address or ID.
While 62pc said they would not and 14pc said they were unsure if they could.
The findings not only raise questions about the effectiveness of the vaccine rollout, but increase the risks for a group more likely to die from the virus.
A Public Health England study found deaths between March 21 and May 8 last year were more than three times higher than 2014 to 2018 for people living in the UK but born in central, western, south or east Africa; the Caribbean; south east Asia and the Middle East.
This compares to an increase of 1.7 times for the population as a whole.
In the UK, estimates of undocumented migrant numbers range from 800,000 to 1.2million.
Anna Miller, head of policy and advocacy at Doctors of the World, said there are several reasons why "insecure" migrants might not have ID or proof of address.
This includes its loss due to the "difficult" routes they may have taken to get to the UK, she added.
Undocumented migrants cannot open a UK bank account or rent a property, meaning they are unlikely to be able to produce bank statements or tenancy agreements.
However, NHS England guidance confirms "anyone in England can register with a GP surgery. You do not need proof of address or immigration status, ID or an NHS number".
NHS England policy - which all those who commission primary care must adhere to - states immigration status, lack of ID or proof of address are not reasonable grounds to refuse registration.
Epidemiologist of Queen Mary University of London, Dr Deepti Gurdasani, said: "From a public health and humanitarian perspective, this is extremely concerning."
Dr Victoria Tzortziou Brown, joint honorary secretary at the Royal College of GPs, added: "If people face barriers due to a lack of awareness around eligibility rules, this needs to be addressed."
There are about 50 GP surgeries in Newham.