Asylum seekers in Reading without vital healthcare for weeks

Refugees and asylum seekers were left without health services and medication for weeks partly due to a slow response from local authorities, a Healthwatch Reading report has found.

The report details what went wrong with the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers at a hotel in Reading, leading to unsafe breaks in care.

Around 80 asylum seekers were placed in the hotel – which we have chosen to keep anonymous for safety reasons – by the Home Office in March 2020 as part of the Covid-19 pandemic response.

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All asylum seekers are now due to leave the hotel by Thursday, March 25, 2021.

Healthwatch Reading visited the hotel four times and spoke to 43 residents from 19 different countries and spoke 16 different languages.

The Healthwatch Reading report says: “Local organisations got little notice of the asylum seekers arriving in Reading but once they were here, the process of linking the arrivals into local health services was slow and responsibility for their overall wellbeing was fragmented.”

The report was discussed at Reading Borough Council’s (RBC) Health and Wellbeing Board on Friday, March 19.

Speaking at the meeting, Mandeep Kaur Bains, chief executive at Healthwatch Reading, said the residents has suffered dental issues, pain, lack of medication supplies, mental health issues, and insomnia.

She said Healthwatch Reading is most concerned by the “lack of timely, joined-up and appropriate response to meeting their healthcare needs”, with it taking four months for there to be a mass registration of the hotel residents with GPs.

Ms Kaur Bains added: “Their move to the hotel in some cases has caused unsafe breaks in their care, in their ongoing treatment, and in receiving regular medication.

“Other issues like having no money to buy things like over-the-counter medication just exacerbated their health concerns.”

The Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group said it was seven weeks before they were told the asylum seekers were in Reading.

Seona Douglas, Reading Borough Council’s director of Adult Care and Health Services, said: “There are some complications about when we can and cannot intervene.

“The important part is pulling out what we would do different next time if this happened again.”

Most people were moved from other UK areas to take them away from cramped or shared accommodation that could have increased their risk of catching Covid-19.

But Healthwatch Reading said moving them – often at short notice – to the Reading hotel, also potentially removed them from established support systems and disrupted ongoing care they had been getting from GP surgeries or specialists.

Nyadeng, a woman in her 30s, has a medical condition which required lengthy and complex treatment and considerable input from a team of health professionals. She also has diabetes.

Her previous clinic contacted a health professional in Reading to check Nyadeng was being followed up, prompting that professional to visit her at the hotel.

During this visit, the health professional found Nyadeng was not registered with a local GP and needed to be taken straight to hospital to be assessed.

Nyadeng had also run out of needles to administer insulin and had no way of checking her blood sugar. The same health professional carried out a follow-up visit three days later and found she still did not have a GP or prescription.

READ MORE: Council prepared for arrival of young asylum seekers but they ‘didn’t appear’

Concerns were escalated to local organisations.

Mohammed, 52, was left without medication for a month due to  and did not eat well due to the hotel food negatively affecting his diabetes.

Farzad, a man in his 40s, had bad toothache for several weeks and no access to pain relief and was desperate.

All needed the assistance of Healthwatch Reading to get the help they needed. Support was also provided by Reading Red Kitchen and Reading Refugees Support Group.

Healthwatch Reading said more work needs to be done for Reading to live up to its ‘City of Sanctuary’ status and called for lessons to be learned.

The report has been shared with Healthwatch England so they can raise the issues involved nationally, including with the Home Office and Clearspring.

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