Access for all

We are lucky to have the NHS in this country, a fact I reflected on after attending a recent event looking at access to health for refugees.

As a patient leader I was asked to attend the event to help me and my fellow patient leaders get a different perspective on the needs of this marginalised group of people. This will help us in our role when we ask those who plan and fund services questions about how they will consider the impact of any proposals on all communities.

So off I went accompanied by Jayne Garnett, a patient engagement and experience expert from NHS Leeds West CCG.

My initial reflections on the event, without wishing to be disparaging, are not overly positive. The event was held with the best of intentions but it was difficult to understand what it was trying to achieve.

There were speakers on the topics of the day who talked at us an only one used visual aid and used PowerPoint or misused it depending on your opinion. It was hard to know what this lady was demonstrating. One of her slides looked like King John could have signed it at Runnymede. It was a shame because she was passionate about her project and the work they are doing.

But then when I scratched beneath the surface there was some important messages coming through.

The message they were giving was that there are refugees who are in the UK who are:

  • here with permission;
  • waiting for their case to be heard; or
  • who have been refused permission to stay.

The one common bond uniting them all when it comes to their health was that were having difficulty accessing health services. Many are not surprisingly suffering from physical, mental health issues or combination of both. There are of course other immigrants not registered with the authorities.

Refugees have difficulty in accessing accommodation and some are sofa surfing. Many are put into substandard housing and do not have the means to purchase food and rely on charities, food banks etc. The issue of the lack of resources was obviously at the forefront of the message being shared.

The picture being painted was of difficult, complex problems and we were asked after each speaker to discuss what had been said and to come up with solutions to the problems described.

It was proving difficult and nigh on impossible to come up with any sensible thoughts. Again the event was held with the best intentions but I felt that the speakers did not give enough background information about the current systems. This meant we were discussing issues without any real knowledge or even certainty on what we were being asked to come up with and they did not offer any options that might be available.

On a more positive note there were stalls set up with information from Voluntary Acton Leeds promoting initiatives such as Engaging Voices, the Physical and Sensory Impairment Network and Young Lives Leeds. There was also information about Dial House a crisis support centre for people experiencing mental ill health and distress.

I also heard about the inspirational work carried out by York Street Health Practice providing healthcare for people who are homeless, temporarily housed or seeking asylum in Leeds.

I was left with the thought that those of us attending the event needed to have information as to how the current system works and positive alternatives. This would give us a greater chance to see how we, both locally and nationally, deal with the influx of people from around the world, many who have indescribable experiences of abuse.

There were professionals at the event who would no doubt have benefitted from the opportunity to network and share experiences. It is clear that the situation around providing services for immigrants and refugees is a huge challenge and will not be resolved easily.

Despite my initial thoughts I still found the event useful to get a different perspective on the lives of people living in our city who we may not normally come across. As a patient leader I now have another group of people to act as an advocate for.

Malcolm Rutt

Patient leader and member of NHS Leeds West CCG’s patient assurance group