Cape Town — Doctors and The Lancet have slammed immigration officials who removed a terminally ill Ghanaian woman from a hospital in Wales and escorted her back to Ghana, where she is unable to afford the treatment she needs to prolong her life.
The Lancet accused UK immigration officials of "atrocious barbarism".
39-year-old Ama Sumani came to the UK five years ago and was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in January 2006.
Until last week, she had been receiving dialysis at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff. Sumani was in the UK on a student visa but was unable to enrol on the banking course she wanted to take because of her lack of English. She started working. Although her visa had expired by the time she was taken ill and she had contravened its conditions by seeking employment, her solicitor made representations for her to stay in the UK on compassionate grounds because she could not afford life-saving treatment in Ghana.
But the Home Office rejected her appeals. As soon as her doctors deemed her fit to travel, immigration officials removed her from the country. According to news reports, Sumani, now in Ghana, has been refused treatment at the main hospital in Accra because she has no source of funding.
Sumani's case has shocked many people in the UK. Her solicitor has been inundated with calls from members of the UK public offering money and even their bone marrow for a transplant. Ghana's High Commissioner in London has appealed to Britain to reverse its decision.
The Lancet said Sumani was not the only migrant who has fallen seriously ill in the UK, begun treatment, and then been removed or deported to a country where treatment is unaffordable or inaccessible.
"Individual doctors who work with these patient groups have been campaigning on their behalf," The Lancet said in an online editorial.
"To stop treating patients in the knowledge that they are being sent home to die is an unacceptable breach of the duties of any health professional. The UK has committed an atrocious barbarism. It is time for doctors' leaders to say so-forcefully and uncompromisingly," it said.
Dr Frank Arnold, an independent doctor working with the UK's Medical Justice Network, said that refusing health care to failed asylum seekers would be both dangerous and unethical, and would impose serious health risks on both these undocumented migrants and the general public.
They said: "It is not in keeping with the ethics of our profession to refuse to see any person who may be ill, particularly pregnant women with complications, sick children, or men crippled by torture. No-one would want such a doctor for their GP."
The doctors called on the government to "retreat from this foolish proposal", and pledge that, should regulations come into force abolishing the rights of failed asylum seekers to treatment, they will:
a) Continue to see asylum seekers and give them health advice whatever their immigration status
b) Document their diagnoses and required clinical care.
c) (with suitable anonymisation and consent) Copy this documentation to the responsible ministers, MPs, and the press
d) Inform the public of the human costs, to harness popular disgust at what is being ordered by the government in their name
e) Campaign to speedily reverse these ill-advised policies.