Docs Not Cops Glasgow educates healthcare workers about asylum system

Credit: Rachel Stamford

Rachel Stamford
News Editor

The campaign group hosted a training workshop to educate healthcare workers and patients about healthcare rights for non-British citizens.

A campaign group hosted a free training workshop for healthcare workers at Civic House on 7 March to educate about the hostile environment surrounding healthcare and how it negatively affects vulnerable patients.

Docs Not Cops Glasgow, an organisation of healthcare workers, students and patients who aim to dismantle barriers in accessing care, partnered with various charities and activists in hosting “Health in the Hostile Environment Training Day”. The eight workshops that were split into four seminars allowed the maximum capacity of 80 attendees to discuss topics such as barriers to accessing healthcare for migrants, mental health in the context of post-migration life, and systematic racism in the NHS.

One member of Docs Not Cops Glasgow, who asked to remain anonymous, said the health consequences of how medical schools are currently training up clinicians are astronomical because they place the burden of emotional labour on vulnerable patients.

“Most doctors don’t know about the asylum system,” the member said. “Doctors have direct public interface dealing with people at their most vulnerable. These people still have fundamental rights, and we hope today people don’t just become more welcoming but actually actively resist the hostile environment.”

The “hostile environment” referenced throughout the workshop is what Docs Not Cops defines as borders in healthcare and discourse around “illegality.” A presentation at the start of the workshop, based on research by academic Maya Goodfellow, presented the various legislation that has made accessing healthcare harder for non-British citizens. It included the Immigration Act of 1971, which made being unlawfully present in the UK or breaching conditions of a visa a criminal offense; the Immigration Health Surcharge, which was introduced in the Immigration Act of 2014 and meant anyone from outside Europe applying to work or study is forced to pay an extra “NHS surcharge” of up to £200 per year before they are given a visa; and the term “illegal immigrants” which Docs Not Cops believes unfairly suggests some people are more deserving of treatment than others.

Alaa Hamza is a collective member of The Unity Centre, which is an organisation that gives practical support to all asylum seekers and other migrants in Scotland. Hamza works directly with asylum seekers and said the confusing path towards refugee status takes an immense toll on their wellbeing. Her presentation focused on introducing the asylum system and how awareness can improve how healthcare workers interact with those seeking asylum.

“Asylum seeking is brave,” Hamza said. “I like to think of them as warriors fighting an unjust system. I know someone who has been waiting 20 years in the system. It’s like gambling and you don’t know the outcome.”

Several University of Glasgow medical students attended the event after seeing it advertised on the Docs Not Cops Glasgow’s Facebook page. Anna De Natale, a second-year medical student, aspires to be a general practitioner after graduation. De Natale said workshops such as this give her a different perspective on the career she wants to pursue.

“These workshops focus on different aspects of healthcare and people who are underrepresented,” De Natale said. “It gives me the opportunity to meet people with common interests which helps inspire me to realise this is the job for me.”

Grace McDonough, a second-year nursing major at UofG, attended the workshop because her lectures do not cover the asylum system.

“It’s our future,” McDonough said. “Nursing covers quite a lot, but not very much in depth. There is no lecture on asylum seeking, which is something I’m interested in learning about.”

There were also presentations that focused specifically on what general practitioners can do to better help non-British citizens. Andy Sirel is the co-founder and senior associate at JustRight Scotland, which is a group of human rights lawyers who collaborate with various charities. Sirel’s presentation focused on teaching the different types of leave to remain in the UK and the rights and entitlements attached to each one so that healthcare workers can identify practical steps when faced with a question of entitlement. Sirel said there are two overall policy objectives in the hostile environment: to reduce net migration to meet an arbitrary figure, and to punish irregular migrants.

“The idea behind this is to make this country difficult to live in if you’re a migrant,” Sirel said.

Docs Not Cops Glasgow is a branch of Docs Not Cops; a London-based campaign that champions to end upfront charging for secondary care, scrapping ID checks and addressing a gap in NHS training that does not consider the needs of migrants and asylum seekers. Though Docs Not Cops Glasgow was only founded last year, their group member said they have plans to start new campaigns and conversations in the coming months.

“For me personally, if you’re in a position of power you should stand in solidarity with others,” the member said. “All students and citizens should not be complacent. Look beyond the surface of healthcare to where you can help.”

Docs Not Cops Glasgow is having an open meeting on 18 March from 7:00pm – 8:30pm in the Glasgow Autonomous Space, for anyone interested in getting involved. The group plans on collaborating further with The Unity Centre, which is also accepting new volunteers of all experiences.


Share this story

Follow us online