Health and wellbeing – for some, but not others:
Watch the news – any news – and you may have noticed that there is an election this week! Key battlegrounds have been the NHS, migration, austerity and welfare. Of course, these all get intertwined. We are told by some parties that migrants are coming to the UK – indeed “flooding” the UK – to reap the benefits of our NHS. This, despite the fact that a report commissioned by the Department of Health found evidence of health tourism at best limited. On the other hand, the NHS depends on migrant workers across all professional groups, and may become increasingly reliant on overseas workers to meet the many pledges of increased staff made by parties of all colours.
However, what we have not discussed nearly enough is the awful situation we see unfolding in the Mediterranean and the role that our foreign and domestic policies play in exacerbating that situation. Only the horror of hundreds of migrants drowning in the Med in the last month or so led to the re-instatement of the Mare Nostrum search and rescue missions, something that the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition Government pulled the UK out of, citing the operation as an “unintended ‘pull factor’”. As someone involved in migrant health research and – I hope – as a decent human being, I have to ask is this really true? Is the UK such a Utopia that men, women and their children (small, newborn and unborn) feel it is worth spending a small fortune to board a rickety boat or dingy and set out across hundreds of miles of open sea?
Rather – what is driving this movement of people? Amnesty International ‘s report today sheds some light on the conditions that drive people to move. Shockingly graphic, it describes Syria’s “Circle of Hell”, describing the situation daily facing civilians in Aleppo. Little wonder then that the boat alternative seems worth a try ….. And yet, too often our media glosses over the bigger picture that contributes to this movement of people, preferring instead to talk about “illegal” migrants and benefits seekers.
The WHO defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Clearly, for those now living in war-torn settings, this has long since ceased to be a reality. The UK has a wider responsibility, as part of the EU, to set policies and play a role that may help resolve some of the currently intractable situations that make the WHO definition unattainable for millions of people. In doing so, there needs to be more discussion about the way in which foreign policy, immigration policy and commitments to international aid intersect. We also need to be ready to welcome those in greatest need to the UK and to our NHS.