Charging non-EU migrants for access to primary care would increase health risks to the rest of the population and place an even bigger financial burden on the NHS, experts from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have warned.
Their research revealed that undocumented migrants would not go to a GP and were more likely to end up in A&E if they had to pay for appointments.
The research team, led by global health lecturer Dr Helena Legido-Quigley and leading public health expert Professor Martin McKee, also reported that many migrants already find it difficult to get access to the care they are entitled to, and called for better training for practices on what non-EU residents were entitled to receive.
In light of the debate around immigration and potential introduction of charges in the run-up to the general election, the researchers carried out a series of interviews with 16 undocumented migrants, and four volunteers working with refugees and asylum seekers.
All of the migrants said they would not be able to afford to access primary care if the proposed charges were introduced.
Most did not know they were already entitled to free care from a GP, but many were aware they could get emergency treatment at A&E departments for free and as a result considered A&E the first place to seek medical attention.
In addition, the researchers said many migrants had found it difficult to register with a GP practice, with practice staff demanding “excessive” documentation, with inconsistencies in requirements between practices, combined with language barriers, creating a “sense of confusion” and “helplessness”.