But there are still instances in which the two agencies share patient information, most commonly in cases of undocumented immigrants with an unpaid medical debt of 500 pounds (around $690) for more than two months. Primary care, including treatment by a family doctor, is free whereas secondary care — hospital visits, surgeries, maternal care — is not.
Those working on behalf of undocumented immigrants say that this hybrid health care system only adds to the confusion about what benefits undocumented immigrants are entitled to. “The government needs to suspend all charging and data sharing operations if they want to prioritize the widest possible access to public health,” said Zoe Gardner, a policy adviser for the Joint Council for The Welfare of Immigrants.
When Huseyin, a 30-year-old undocumented chef, found out that he could see a family doctor for free — and eventually be called for a vaccine — he said he immediately tried to register. That was three months ago.
He said a family clinic in London had asked for a valid passport or ID before turning him away. A few weeks later, he moved to Brighton, England, for a full-time job at a restaurant. He tried again with a local doctor there but was told — incorrectly — that he needed an N.H.S. number to register with them.
“N.H.S. guidance says nothing about documentation, but nobody teaches you when you’re in medical school about a patient’s right to access a G.P.,” said Dr. Elizabeth Bates, an associate general practitioner in the West Midlands. “That the N.H.S. is for everybody is something many British people are very intrinsically proud of, but even some doctors don’t understand that their practice may have these policies that prevent people from registering.”
Huseyin is now getting registration help from Doctors of the World U.K., a nonprofit that works to ensure access to health care for those with unclear immigration status. He’s young, though, and is unlikely to be called for a vaccine for months.