The Terrence Higgins Trust has launched a campaign to highlight the needs of migrant HIV sufferers who are being denied public healthcare under current NHS regulations.
In April 2004, new NHS charging regulations were introduced to limit HIV treatment. The new regulations were a response to allegations of ‘treatment tourism’ – the idea that people were coming to the UK to receive free healthcare. But there has been no research to show that ‘treatment tourism’ actually exists. Studies carried out by the Terrence Higgins Trust found that the majority of migrants became aware of their HIV status after nine months in the UK.
Prior to the 2004 regulations, universal free treatment was available for a range of conditions and was incorporated into the NHS Act 1977 and the NHS (Charges to Overseas Visitors) Regulations 1989 on public health grounds. Under current regulations, free treatment is not available for long stay visitors, anyone in the UK without documentation and anyone refused asylum or leave to remain, but not removed from the UK. Persons with any of these statuses would be liable to be charged for any NHS services (except emergency services and exemptions from other sexually transmitted infections).
The Terrence Higgins Trust has become aware of a number of cases of sufferers being refused treatment due to the new regulations. It has highlighted cases in which treatment has been refused to pregnant mothers, even though it would prevent the unborn child from contracting the virus. The Trust believes that this kind of action will limit the number of sufferers coming forward, thereby increasing the risk that others will become infected. It also believes that any short-term cost benefits to the NHS will be undermined by the longer-term financial and health costs.
Encouraged by the positive support it has received from some MPs who are familiar with the campaign, the Trust aims to gather support from organisations and members of the public. With this support, it hopes to lobby parliament to make treatment available to all sufferers, regardless of their status, on public health and humanitarian grounds.
If you would like to send a message to your MP in support of the ‘Restore free HIV treatment for all’ campaign, please visit http://www.advocacyonline.net/tht/jan05/content_camp_free.jsp.