Jeremy Corbyn has written to Theresa May about Londoner Albert Thompson’s £54,000 bill for cancer treatment, saying the government risks allowing a patient to die because of difficulties proving immigration status.
Thompson, 63, who has lived continuously in the UK for 44 years since arriving from Jamaica as a teenager in 1973, is not receiving the radiotherapy he needs for prostate cancer because the London hospital where he was due to start treatment last November told him he needed to provide proof of residency or pay upfront for his care.
He was unable to supply officials with required documents, so he was told he needed to find £54,000. Thompson, who has asked for his real name not to be used, is increasingly worried about the potential impact on his health of the delay of more than four months. The Labour leader called on ministers to “intervene immediately in his case to ensure that this man gets access to the care that he needs”.
Corbyn said Thompson’s situation was not unique and he was dealing with a similar case in his constituency, which he had also raised with the Home Office. He said the cases were a direct result of new regulations introduced last October requiring hospital departments and community health services to check every patient’s paperwork, including passports and proof of address, and charge upfront for their healthcare if they did not have documentary proof of eligibility.
The case raised the prospect that many undocumented British citizens were being denied free NHS treatment, and that the principle of the universal NHS, free at the point of need, was being eroded, he wrote.
“Every patient, including British citizens, can be asked about their residency status and made to prove they are entitled to free NHS care,” he said. He quoted concerns raised by the shadow spokesperson for health and social care, Philip Hunt, who said in the Lords last year that, as a result of the new regulations, “many people who legitimately live here and have every right to NHS treatment are going to be challenged by the NHS”.
Thompson, who worked as a mechanic before he became ill, has never applied for a British passport because he had no need to, but the Jamaican passport he arrived with was lost many years ago. In the tightened hostile immigration environment, launched by Theresa May in 2013, he has struggled to prove his eligibility for housing support and free healthcare.
A spokesperson for the hospital said Thompson “continues to be treated by his GP as directed by the cancer specialist. His radiotherapy is not urgent. We are very sorry this has caused Mr Thompson distress and uncertainty and are working hard to try to resolve this as quickly as possible.”
Thompson said he had not seen a GP about his prostate cancer treatment since early last year.
Doctors have expressed confusion at the decision to classify the radiotherapy as non-urgent. Joe Rylands, a spokesperson for Docs Not Cops, a group of healthcare professionals campaigning to protect free access to healthcare for all people, said: “I cannot foresee any circumstances whereby a patient has been deemed to need ‘discretionary’ radiotherapy for prostate cancer. Either they need it by team decision, when it is potentially life-saving, or they don’t. To withdraw it on the basis of nationality appears unethical and incompatible with the principles of the NHS.”
A Downing Street spokesperson said the prime minister had received the letter and would respond in due course. A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Our guidance makes clear that urgent and immediately necessary care should never be withheld or delayed.”
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