Cancer treatment for Albert Thompson, who has lived in UK for 44 years, denied NHS care.
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'It's like I'm being left to die'
UPDATE - You are also welcome to donate to Praxis, the charity supporting him directly: http://www.praxis.org.uk/donate-now-page-25.html
Londoner Albert Thompson, in UK for 44 years, was told he must pay for care after Home Office dispute.
When Albert Thompson went for his first radiotherapy session for prostate cancer in November he says he was surprised to be taken aside by a hospital administrator and told that unless he could produce a British passport he would be charged £54,000 for the treatment.
Thompson has lived in London for 44 years, having arrived from Jamaica as a teenager, and although he has worked as a mechanic and paid taxes for more than three decades, the Home Office is disputing his eligibility to remain.
The 63-year-old, who asked for his real name not to be printed on legal advice, is another victim of an unfolding scandal around the treatment by the Home Office of a group of people who arrived in the UK as children from Commonwealth countries. This cohort grew up believing themselves to be British, only to discover in a rapidly hardening immigration climate that they need documentary proof of their right to be here, which many do not have.
Thompson’s mother moved from Jamaica to the UK in the 1960s to work as a nurse, dedicating much of her working life to the health system. He married in Britain, and has two grown up sons and a 15-year-old daughter. Thompson was employed full time as a mechanic and later did MOT work, until 2008 when he was diagnosed with the blood cancer lymphoma; since then he has been too ill to work.
His problems with the Home Office became acute last July when he was evicted from council-owned accommodation because officials questioned whether he was eligible. The Home Office said it could find no record of him in its files and he was forced to sleep on the streets, until the homelessness charity St Mungo’s housed him. “I kept myself away from other people, sleeping around the back of shops. It was a bit frightening when you’re not used to it,” he said.
Last October the Department of Health published new guidance highlighting NHS trusts’ legal responsibility for charging overseas visitors. A letter from the hospital stated unless Thompson could provide documents to prove that he was “ordinarily resident and legally entitled to live in the UK”, he would be required to pay for treatment “in full, in advance”.
Lawyers at the law firm Duncan Lewis are trying to help but because there is no legal aid for this kind of case, can only continue if exceptional funding is raised. His lawyer, Jeremy Bloom, said the firm had been contacted by a number of people encountering similar problems.
“The Home Office routinely fails to recognise people’s permission to be here, regardless of whether a person has been living in the UK, registered with numerous other government departments, paying taxes and contributing to society for decades,” he said. “This case is particularly serious because of his urgent health needs, and the time that it will take for him to regularise his status here through making the appropriate immigration application. Meanwhile, he is being denied potentially life-saving treatment.”
Thompson’s case has been taken up by the migration charity Praxis, based in east London. It has seen a sharp rise in cases involving retirement-age Commonwealth citizens who have lived continuously in the UK for about 50 years, but are facing questions about their immigration status, resulting in evictions, refusal of benefits and dismissal from work.
The numbers are galloping up – these are people who have paid taxes and contributed all their adult lives who are suddenly being stopped and asked: on what basis are you here?” said Bethan Lant of a Praxis. “Their only crime is that they have not filled in a form from the Home Office.”
There is growing awareness of the problems faced by long-term UK residents who do not have the paperwork to prove they are in the country legally. Last year, Paulette Wilson, 61, a cook who had worked in the House of Commons, narrowly avoided deportation to Jamaica, where she was born.
Thompson’s situation is not unique. Lawyers at Southwark Law Centre are fighting a similar case involving a man who arrived as a child more than 40 years ago from a Caribbean country who has also been told that he is not eligible for cancer treatment on the NHS. As a result of the Home Office decision to question his immigration status, he is living on local authority destitution support – having paid tax and national insurance for decades. After a legal challenge, he has received some treatment but he has been told he must pay for it.
Thompson is feeling unwell and is constantly worrying about his condition, his treatment and his Home Office status. “I’ve got no money. Since I stopped work when I got ill I’ve been living from day to day,” he said. “I’m very angry with the government. I’m here legally but they’re asking me to prove I’m British.”
Albert Thompson and others in his position need our support to prevent them being denied their rights and status as British citizens. One whose parents came here for work, have been raised here and worked and paid taxes. Who belong here.
Please sign this petition to show your support and put pressure on the Home Office so Albert can get the treatment he needs and in doing so support other facing similar situations.
(Photo: Jill Mead/The Guardian)
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