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Asylum seekers and refugees need NHS care too, congress hears

Nurses describe encounters with desperately ill asylum seekers and call for more awareness of their needs.
fraser walker

Nurses describe encounters with desperately ill asylum seekers and call for more awareness of their needs

Nurses at the RCN congress described encounters with desperately ill asylum seekers and called for more awareness of their needs.

They also told congress there must be an end to the stigmatisation of asylum seekers and refugees, who had the same rights to healthcare as everyone else.

Opening the discussion, children and young peoples nurse Fraser Walker told the story of a Syrian boy with diabetic ketoacidosis.

The boy had arrived in the country only a few days before appearing in the hospital with his mother. They did not speak English, so the health team had to use visual cues until a translator arrived.

Awareness of frontline staff

Nurses describe encounters with desperately ill asylum seekers and call for more awareness of their needs

fraser walker
Fraser Walker described the plight of a Syrian boy with diabetic ketoacidosis.
Picture: John Houlihan

Nurses at the RCN congress described encounters with desperately ill asylum seekers and called for more awareness of their needs.

They also told congress there must be an end to the stigmatisation of asylum seekers and refugees, who had the same rights to healthcare as everyone else.

Opening the discussion, children and young people’s nurse Fraser Walker told the story of a Syrian boy with diabetic ketoacidosis.

The boy had arrived in the country only a few days before appearing in the hospital with his mother. They did not speak English, so the health team had to use visual cues until a translator arrived.

Awareness of frontline staff

It emerged that the child’s father, who had renal failure, had been sharing needles with him and another of his children.

Mr Walker said: ‘How must the family feel, not speaking English, not understanding the health provision, and on this on top of dealing with a seriously ill child.’

There are estimated to be 117,000 refugees and 37,000 asylum seekers in the UK, which is about 0.4% of the population.

Mr Walker said it was essential for frontline health staff to be aware of the rights and entitlements of these groups.

Feeling empathy

RCN Norfolk branch member Helen Oatham told of her own experience of being unwell in a country where she did not speak the language, when she had to go to an emergency department in Turkey.

‘The doctor spoke very little English, and it was horrible sitting there not understanding what was being discussed about my condition. So I can empathise with how these people feel,’ she said.

RCN mental health forum chair Ed Freshwater said his work involved caring for women with perinatal mental health needs, and they can include refugees and asylum seekers.

It was important that their care was not interrupted by being ‘shipped out to different parts of the country’. 

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