Page last updated at 13:26 GMT, Wednesday, 15 July 2009 14:26 UK

Failed asylum seekers health help

Man reading
Failed asylum seekers in England are still refused free health care

Failed asylum seekers in Wales who have been told they cannot stay in Britain can now have access to free NHS care.

A change in regulations was confirmed by the assembly government in June, and came in to force on Wednesday.

The new rules set Wales apart from England, where failed asylum seekers are barred from free treatment.

Amnesty International Wales has welcomed the decision, saying that treating people with respect "is a mark of a humane society".

The change to rules in Wales were signalled by the assembly government's Health Minister Edwina Hart in 2008.

"I have made clear that the aim of these changes is to ensure that people who are in need of healthcare receive it," she said.


"I believe the mark of a civilised society is the way in which it treats its people, particularly the sick and dying."

The change to the health care regulations in Wales followed a High Court challenge to the UK government's policy.

In March, appeal court judges backed the department of health's decision to charge failed asylum seekers in England for access to the NHS.

In Scotland, there is no firm legislation on the issue. However the Scottish government says that for all practical purposes, if a failed asylum seeker was living there when they applied to stay, they should continue to receive free health care until they are finally deported.

The assembly government's own figures for 2007 show that 11 failed asylum seekers were treated by Welsh NHS trusts, at an estimated cost of £78,000.

Amnesty International Wales said it welcomed the impact the changes would have people "previously denied proper access to healthcare" in Wales.

Cathy Owens, its programme director, added: "There are some people who seek safety here in Wales whose case is ultimately not successful, but for many reasons it is impossible for them to return home.

"If they become sick, are suffering from a long-term illness, or are pregnant, then we should not turn them away from Welsh hospitals.

"We applaud this bold move, that will so positively impact upon human rights here in Wales."

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