Health Problems for Migrants

Migrants in Northern Ireland generally report their health to be good. There can nevertheless be health problems associated with migration. These include:

  • Finding and registering with a doctor (the term ‘GP’ is usually unfamiliar)
  • Language barriers
  • Failure to have basic cultural needs met in hospital e.g. dietary needs
  • Some migrants are only entitled to free emergency treatment and not long-term care
  • For some poverty, and especially rough sleeping, will compromise their health
  • Some migrants might have had less access to preventive medical care in their home countries
  •  Accurate records of childhood immunisation may not be available.
  • Some health conditions are more prevalent among some people groups e.g. Vitamin D deficiency among people who cover up due to their dress code
  • Mental illness is a taboo subject in some cultures

Migrants and Mental Health Issues

  • Many migrant workers work long hours on shift work, which can affect mental health.
  • The isolation of migrant life can lead to depressive illness.
  • Racism, harassment and exploitation can all lead to depression.
  • Unemployment, poverty and destitution can lead to despair.
  • The asylum application system is stressful and those whose applications have been refused suffer, especially if there is pre-existing trauma.
  • Immigration detention or the imprisonment of foreign nationals following criminal conviction can create additional pressure on mental health.
  • Honorary consuls are reporting suicide as an area of concern and the trades unions have drawn attention to the particular vulnerability of migrants.

Access to healthcare

People from anywhere in the world have a right to emergency medical treatment in the UK but some people are not entitled to free ongoing care or to register with a doctor. Not being able to do so has a knock-on effect on free entitlement to other services such as children’s vaccinations. In 2015 it was agreed that anyone who had ever been in the asylum system could have access to ongoing healthcare in Northern Ireland. People registering with a doctor for the first time, can access application forms in 16 languages online.

The Northern Ireland New Entrants Service (NINES) offers nurse-led health care advice and initial health assessments for those not registered with a GP. It is a first point of contact to the health service for new migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, offering health promotion advice and information on how to register with a GP and access other services they may need. (Link above is for Southern Trust. Link to Belfast Trust NINES here)

Incomers from outside Europe who are here on visas for work or study, have to pay for certain services such as prescriptions, dental treatment and eye tests and must now also pay an annual surcharge before they can access the NHS. Click here for more information

Further Reading

 ‘Access Denied – Or Paying When You Shouldn’t’, a NI Human Rights Commission research paper, January 2011.

Barriers to Health; Migrant Health and Wellbeing in Belfast, 2010.