Immigrants face obstacle in getting COVID vaccine

Undocumented immigrants are struggling to register at a GP to get the COVID vaccine, despite NHS assurances that they should be able to do so.

On February 8, the Government announced an “amnesty” for undocumented residents, reassuring them there would be no immigration checks at vaccine centres.

Those willing to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others will still need to be registered with a GP, however, and Waltham Forest activists claim this has proved a barrier for many.

GPs are not meant to insist on ID or proof of address from those who cannot provide it but Averil Pooten Watan, of St Barnabas Church, says some members of her congregation have still been turned away by local practices.

She said: “They just feel helpless really that they are not able to do the right thing and register.

“Two people I have spoken to have just said they can’t do it because the practice has asked for proof of address.

“These people live in Waltham Forest, some of them for 10 to 20 years, but they will rent a room, they do not have a tenancy agreement or utility bills to prove their address.

“People are so embarrassed to go back and try again that I fear (the NHS) is going to lose them. I do not know if I can make them feel comfortable enough to go back.”

Mary Logan, a retired GP from Waltham Forest Save Our NHS, added the clinical commissioning group (CCG), which runs the local NHS, needs to better communicate to GPs that they can register patients without proof of address.

Practices have no duty to seek evidence of identity or immigration status, as stated on the British Medical Association website, and can even use the GP address itself to register a patient if necessary.

Ms Logan said: “It’s not about criticising the practices, it’s about the CCG needing to aid them to get around this problem.

“What are the CCG actually doing to ensure that care is being facilitated rather than a system which deliberately or unwittingly deters (undocumented residents)?”

After this article had been published, a spokesperson for Waltham Forest CCG said: “We are continuing to work with our partners to identify people who are eligible for a vaccine but not currently registered with a GP to ensure they are offered an appointment.

“We will follow up with individual practices if any issues are brought to our attention.”

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter