Immigration officials have turned HIV patients into prisoners, claims hospital

Posted by admin on Apr 29th, 2011

Diane Taylor, The Guardian, Apr. 29 2011

HIV patients at a London hospital have in effect been imprisoned following a move by immigration officials to secure the sexual health unit, NHS consultants claim. Hillingdon hospital in west London treats detainees at two immigration removal centres near Heathrow alongside other patients. The problems began when doctors refused to treat an HIV-positive detainee because the guard to whom he was handcuffed refused to uncuff him. An incident report was filed and sent to the medical director.

Officials from the UK Border Agency then installed restraints on the windows at the hospital’s sexual health clinic to ensure that detainees could not escape.

HIV specialist Ben Holden, a consultant at the hospital, said: “The unit is now a prison for us all. Our windows only open two inches but UKBA have installed chunky locks on them. We were told they would bring removable window restraints but these are permanent.

“No detainee has ever absconded or attempted to abscond. As doctors we believe that to keep immigration detainees restrained or locked in is discriminatory. I don’t want to be part of a process that treats people in a less than human way.”

Doctors are angry that immigration detainees who have committed no crime, approximately half of whom are later released, are treated in this way.

An audit conducted by the hospital revealed that none of the detainees removed from the UK were dispatched with a full three month supply of anti-retroviral drugs (in accordance with British HIV Association/National Aids Trust guidelines) because in many cases doctors at the hospital were not notified by UKBA prior to their removal. UKBA frequently cancelled appointments and some HIV-positive patients were removed before they were seen at the hospital.

Professor Jane Anderson, chair of the British HIV Association, said: “BHIVA and the National Aids Trust have developed advice on appropriate HIV treatment and care for people in the immigration removal system, and we are disappointed to hear that this advice is not always being followed. We want to see the highest standards of care for everyone with HIV in the UK. Any factors that make the provision of high quality clinical care difficult give us cause for concern.”

Emma Ginn, co-ordinator of the charity Medical Justice – which recently published Detained and Denied, a report cataloguing examples of poor medical treatment for HIV-positive detainees – said: “Along with the potentially lethal medical abuse they suffer in detention centres detainees are suffering sub-human conditions in hospital.”

The UK Border Agency said: “We have agreed the installation of window locks for detainee treatment with Hillingdon hospital and are working with them to address the concerns now raised. Detainees are only handcuffed when absolutely necessary and they are not handcuffed during treatment.

“The welfare of detainees is important but this must always be balanced with the security of the detainees and the public. Detainees have round-the-clock access to healthcare services to discuss their medication needs.”

A spokesman for the Hillingdon hospitals NHS foundation trust said: “The UK Border Agency has told us that they do not believe our open ward environment is suitable for the treatment of individuals who may be failed asylum seekers and under restraint. However, a large proportion of the patients who are brought to our sexual health department by the agency are later discharged into the community and are not subject to the criminal law.

“We have agreed a temporary measure with the Border Agency to put discreet bars on windows in the unit, but we are continuing to negotiate an agreement with the agency that will offer a solution that allows us to treat all our patients with respect.”

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