An investigation has been launched after an ill and heavily pregnant woman was illegally removed from her GP’s list, told she was not entitled to NHS treatment in Scotland and wrongly charged more than £4,000 for treatment she had already received.
Amber Hussain (not her real name), who has lived in the UK since 2012 and already had a British-born child, was in the process of applying for leave to remain as a spouse when she was told she was not entitled to NHS services.
It is illegal for NHS Scotland to remove a patient from a GP list, irrespective of their nationality or immigration status. It is also illegal to charge someone for health services they have already received on the basis that no charges would be made. NHS Scotland’s own rules state that: “No woman should ever be denied maternity services in Scotland, or have such services delayed, regardless of her liability, or ability, to pay when charges apply.”
Amber was not able to visit her GP in the weeks leading up to her second child’s birth earlier this month. She had to diagnose her symptoms herself with the help of the internet and guess which medication she needed to purchase from her local pharmacy.
While trying to persuade the Scottish government to overturn its decision, Amber also received an invoice for £4,186 for NHS treatment she had received between 2016 and 2017. The bill noted she was an “overseas patient” and that the sum was due immediately.
After the Guardian questioned her treatment, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde reimbursed her for the money she had already paid and the remaining debt has been paused while the investigation is conducted. NHS Scotland’s Practitioner Services Division has announced an investigation into the case, but has not contacted Amber, who is still waiting to be told that she can visit her GP or access care without fear of being charged.
“The birth of our beloved daughter was completely overshadowed by the stress and anxiety caused by the first bill and the second, similar bill we expected to get to cover the costs of her birth and my wife’s postnatal care in hospital,” said her husband, Ali Hussain. “We couldn’t enjoy our new baby because we were expecting bailiffs to turn up at our door at every moment.”
Amber suffered complications after the birth and was kept in hospital on a pay as you go scheme, where every item was charged for. “The birth of a new child should be the most happy thing in the world,” said Ali (not his real name). “But I couldn’t stop myself counting each nappy the baby used and each blanket, and imagining the bill going up and up.”
Ali, who has two master’s degrees from UK universities, was a sales and service officer at a UK bank, earning £21,000. In 2015, his accountant realised that an error made by one of his employees in the 2010-11 accounting year had resulted in Ali under-declaring his self-employment income by £8,000. “Straightaway, my accountant sent a revised return to HMRC and all taxes were paid,” said Ali. “HMRC accepted the correction and never imposed any penalty.”
The Home Office, however, said the tax amendment was sufficient evidence that Ali should be deported under paragraph 322(5) of the immigration rules, designed in part to deal with terrorists and those judged to be a risk to national security.
“During the course of my 12 years’ stay in the UK I never claimed any kind of benefit, I’ve always been a taxpayer, never broken any law and never even committed a traffic offence,” he said. “How can the Home Office classify me a ‘threat to national security’ based on this one minor tax amendment?
“Their effort to link tax correction with ‘national security’ is entirely unjustified and a blatant mockery of the principles of fairness and justice,” he added. “The pain my wife and I have, and the stress and suffering we are going through is beyond measure and perhaps beyond imagination.”
In March, Ali was called to report to an immigration centre. He attended with his heavily pregnant wife and believes an official he dealt with then forwarded his wife’s details to the NHS. “A few days later, we received a letter from NHS Scotland saying they had been informed by the UK Home Office that my wife was a visitor to the UK and not entitled to NHS services. The letter said she had been removed from the NHS list at her GP surgery with immediate effect.”
With their baby due weeks later and Amber’s health condition worsening, Ali employed solicitors to reverse the Home Office’s decision. The solicitor wrote repeatedly to the Home Office, as did the family’s MP, Paul Masterton.
“We repeatedly tried to get the Home Office to admit its mistake, stressing the urgency of my wife’s condition,” said Ali. “But they refused to answer letters from me or from our solicitor, and they lied to our MP, too, by wrongly telling them that my wife’s appeal had been refused and then that it was out of time, neither of which are true.”
Ahsan Mustafa from RH & Co Solicitors said: “A counter clerk from the Home Office in Brand Street erroneously informed the NHS that our client was not entitled to access NHS services without charge on the grounds that she is a ‘visitor’ to the UK. This is categorically untrue. The Home Office clerk provided erroneous information to the NHS … As a result, our client was delisted from [her GP].”
A Scottish government spokesperson said: “Regardless of residency status, everybody in Scotland is entitled to receive immediate and necessary treatment at a GP practice. On that basis, this case is being reviewed by NHS Scotland’s Practitioner Services Division to ensure that the correct procedures are followed.”
A Home Office spokesperson said they could not comment on individual cases.