No evidence small boat arrivals beat NHS waiting lists

6 October 2022
What was claimed

People who arrive in the UK on small boats are put higher up on NHS waiting lists.

Our verdict

Asylum seekers, those awaiting an appeal and certain failed asylum seekers get access to free primary and secondary NHS care. But there’s no evidence they are put higher up NHS waiting lists when they do get access to healthcare.

A post on Facebook appears to claim that those who arrive in the UK on small boats, the majority of whom claim asylum, get put at the front of NHS waiting lists.

The post says: “How to beat the NHS waitlist and stay warm this winter. 1. Hide your ID 2. Take a dinghy half way out the [sic] channel 3. Turn it around, head back to the shore, and pretend you don’t speak English”.

Those who arrive by small boat and go on to claim asylum or are awaiting an asylum decision appeal (and certain failed asylum seekers in England) are entitled to free healthcare on the NHS. This includes primary care, such as seeing a GP, and secondary care, like hospital treatment.

But there’s no evidence that they are able to “beat the NHS waitlist”, as the post claims. 

People on NHS waiting lists are prioritised depending on clinical urgency, and when they were put on the list. Full Fact could find no evidence that asylum seekers get put higher up on waiting lists based on their immigration status.

The Home Office confirmed to Full Fact that if someone arriving on a small boat needs urgent care they will be given that, and that those providing accommodation for asylum seekers have to signpost GP healthcare services, but that asylum seekers aren’t prioritised for healthcare ahead of people already on waiting lists.

In fact, it may be the case that asylum seekers find it more difficult to access healthcare due to language barriers, misunderstandings by both patient and healthcare provider as to what free care they are entitled to, and other issues.

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What is a waiting list?

Waiting lists usually refer to the number of people who have been referred for treatment but are still waiting for consultant-led elective care, which may be clinical care or surgery that is planned in advance. The latest data shows that in July 2022, 6.8 million people were on such waiting lists in England.

Waiting times may also refer to the amount of time people wait for a GP appointment (which the government says patients in England should expect to get within two weeks), in A&E before being seen, or for an ambulance to arrive. There is also no evidence that asylum seekers have faster access to these services.

Staying warm this winter

The post also makes reference to staying “warm this winter”.

It’s true that destitute asylum seekers can get somewhere to live if they need it. If they do live in this accommodation, they do not have to pay utility bills (for example gas or electricity).

Image courtesy of Alamy

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