Sunday, 11 March 2018

Britain is no country for sick, scarce old, erstwhile Commonwealth citizens like 'Albert Thompson'

He has the assumed name of 'Albert Thompson' and has lived in London for 44 years. At 63, he is scarce 'old', but he does suffer from cancer. He arrived in Britain from Jamaica as a teenager in the late 1960s with his Mum, who got a job as a nurse. His Jamaican passport was lost a long time ago and Albert was never officially registered for British citizenship. Since then, he got married in Britain, has two grown up sons and a 15-year-old daughter, was employed full time as a mechanic and later did MOT work.

Albert's troubles began in 2008 when he was diagnosed with the blood cancer, 'lymphoma' and since then he has been too ill to work. Things got worse for him last July when he was evicted from his council-owned accommodation because officials questioned whether he was eligible for residence. The Home Office said it could find no record of him in its files and he was forced to sleep on the streets for three weeks. He said, with understatement : “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.” 

Since then, after he had surgery for prostate cancer in January last year, he was due to begin a course of radiotherapy at the Royal Marsden Hospital in November, but when he turned up for the appointment he was ushered into a side room by a member of staff for a discussion about his eligibility and costs. “I was expecting to get the treatment, but they gave me a form requesting a British passport" and “The lady wasn’t at all polite. She said you have to produce it or pay £54,000. I said: "Oh my God, I don’t have 54 pence, let alone £54,00."

A spokesperson for the Royal Marsden has said : “Each NHS Trust in England is legally responsible for identifying and charging overseas visitors using NHS services where the patient cannot prove that they are ordinarily resident and legally entitled to live in the UK. In line with Department of Health guidance, from 23 October 2017 the Royal Marsden is now legally required to charge non-eligible patients in advance of any treatment.”

Lawyers at Duncan Lewis are now trying to help Albert, but because there is no legal aid for his kind of case, they can only continue if exceptional funding is raised. Jeremy Bloom, has 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. 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.”

Albert's case has also been taken up by the migration charity, 'Praxis,' which has seen a sharp rise in cases involving retirement-age Commonwealth citizens who have lived continuously in Britain for about 50 years, but are facing questions about their immigration status, resulting in evictions, refusal of benefits and dismissal from work. In 2015 it dealt with 20 such cases, in 2016 there were 39, in 2017 there were 54 and since the start of this year the charity has already dealt with 13.

Bethan Lant has said : “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?” Their only crime is that they have not filled in a form from the Home Office.”

Sadly, Albert's case is not unique and lawyers at 'Southwark Law Centre' are fighting a similar case involving a man who arrived as a child from the Caribbean more than 40 years ago and who has also been told that he is not eligible for cancer treatment on the National Health Service. Like Albert, he has worked and paid his taxes for decades. After a legal challenge, he has received some treatment but he has been told he must pay for it.

The Home Office has said that it could not comment on the case because it had : 'not been provided with the details that would allow us to investigate these claims.'

Albert has said : “I don’t know what is going on inside; it is really worrying me. It feels like they are leaving me to die.”

Thurs 22nd February :
Britain, after all these years, still no country for old men who came as boys from the Commonwealth

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