Expert calls for action to make healthcare more accessible to refugees

Refugees and asylum seekers are struggling to access health and wellbeing services in Wales, according to new research.

A report by Public Health Wales and Swansea University has revealed people seeking sanctuary felt their needs were not recognised and that they had experienced language difficulties and a lack of appropriate interpretation when accessing services.

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Some respondents said the stress of being an asylum seeker or refugee contributed to their poor physical and mental health.

In a survey conducted as part of the study, just 36 per cent of respondents said they found it easy or very easy to make an appointment with a GP.

However 94 per cent of respondents said they were currently registered with a GP practice.

The study – The Health Experiences of Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Wales – was led by Dr Ashra Khanom, a research fellow at Swansea University Medical School.

It was conducted to investigate the health, wellbeing and healthcare experience of adult asylum seekers and refugees in Wales, including the views and experiences of both healthcare recipients and providers.

Mainstream health professionals from secondary and primary care said they often lacked adequate resources to meet the needs of people seeking sanctuary effectively.  Issues included a lack of staff time, a lack of specific knowledge relating to people seeking sanctuary, and lack of information in appropriate languages.

Dr Khanom said: “While there is good practice across Wales, the experience of often vulnerable individuals of the health and wellbeing system in Wales should be improved to address issues around access to care. 

“This report makes key recommendations to help policy-makers and practitioners improve the experience of people seeking sanctuary in accessing health and wellbeing services.” 

It recommended:

  • Improved access to services, with written and translated introductory information about rights and entitlements for refugees and asylum seekers;
  • Improved training of health professionals on social and legal issues; and,
  • Work to address social determinants of health using a multi-agency approach, to include working closely with the voluntary sector to maximise support for people seeking sanctuary, including refused asylum seekers.

The research involved included a review of existing evidence, along with survey and focus group activity, and interviews with healthcare professionals, to establish what helped or hindered the healthcare access and experiences of those seeking sanctuary.

Gill Richardson, Assistant Director for Policy, Research and International Development at PHW, said: “Refugees and asylum seekers make a huge contribution to Welsh society.  However, the experience of seeking asylum can be traumatising adding to existing bereavement, loss and transition stress. We have a responsibility to ensure that services meet the needs of all in our communities and that no one gets left behind. 

“This report finds that Wales needs to build on existing action if it is to achieve its ambition of being the world’s first Nation of Sanctuary, following the recent publication of the Welsh Government’s Refugee and Asylum Seeker plan.”