Theresa May has promised to look into into the case of a Londoner asked to pay £54,000 for cancer treatment despite having lived in the UK for 44 years, after Jeremy Corbyn raised it at prime minister’s questions.
The difficulties faced by Albert Thompson, the 63-year-old man whose case was uncovered by the Guardian, were highlighted during a heated exchange on the state of the NHS. Thompson is not receiving the radiotherapy treatment he needs for prostate cancer after he was unable to provide the hospital with sufficient evidence of residency.
Corbyn asked the prime minister: “If we believe in universal healthcare, how can it be possible that someone lives and works in this country, pays their taxes, but is then denied access to the NHS for life-saving cancer treatment?”
Thompson – who has asked for his real name not to be used after legal advice – worked as a mechanic in London, paying taxes for more than three decades, until his cancer made it impossible for him to continue working.
May said she was unaware of the case, but looked forward to receiving further details, and wanted “to ensure that all those who are entitled to treatment with the National Health Service are able to receive it.” Corbyn said he would write to her outlining Thompson’s situation. “I suspect he’s not alone in this, and I urge her to discuss this with the Home Office and others,” Corbyn said.
Thompson told the Guardian he was delighted to hear that his case had been raised in parliament, but was increasingly concerned about the ongoing delay in treatment. He had hoped that publicity about his case would make the Royal Marsden staff realise there had been a mistake, prompting them to give him the treatment he was due to have last year, but he has had heard nothing from them.
He is worried that his health is deteriorating because he is not getting the radiotherapy his consultant told him he needed after prostate surgery last January. Last October the Department of Health published new guidance highlighting NHS trusts’ legal responsibility for charging overseas visitors. He was expecting to begin six weeks of daily radiotherapy at the Royal Marsden in November, but was told on arrival that unless he could provide evidence that he was “ordinarily resident” in the UK, he would have to pay £54,000 “in full, in advance”.
He has no savings, has been made homeless by a related Home Office dispute over his residency status, and has no way of paying the fee. In any case, he cannot understand why he is has been asked to pay it since he has spent his entire adult life here. He has never had a British passport, and was not aware he needed one. The Jamaican passport he arrived with was lost many years ago.
“It feels like they have done half the job and then left me to die,” he said. “I would like the hospital to get in touch. I am feeling a bit of extra pain; it’s very hard to get comfortable.”
Details of his case have caused widespread outrage from politicians of all parties, NHS staff and the public. An online petition calling for the NHS to treat him has gathered over 47,000 signatures. The British Medical Association described the case as “morally indefensible”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We value the contribution made by Commonwealth citizens who have made a life in the UK. Those who have lived in the UK for an extended period but feel they may not have the correct documentation confirming their leave to remain should take legal advice and submit the appropriate application with correct documentation so we can progress the case. When the Home Office is made aware of cases of this nature, we will make sure the applications are dealt with in a sensitive way.”
A spokesperson for the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust said staff were in touch with Thompson’s advisers to obtain the necessary documentation to expedite his treatment: “Staff have acted in accordance with their legal obligations to assess eligibility in advance of any treatment. Where care is deemed urgent or immediately necessary, a patient will always be treated.”
Jeremy Bloom, Thompson’s lawyer, said he was concerned that officials were effectively requiring him to become more critically ill before treatment would be given. “Clinical decisions have been made that radiotherapy would be the best course of action for his condition. It was only since the changes to the NHS charging regulations that this treatment has been classed as ‘not urgent or immediately necessary’. Does the NHS propose to wait until he gets sicker and sicker, and then reclassify the treatment as immediately necessary?” he said.
Laura Stahnke from Praxis, the charity that has been supporting him, said: “We hope that the hospital and that the Home Office will act quickly to make sure Albert receive the treatments he urgently needs and secures his status”
Professor Shirley Hodgson, a cancer geneticist and member of the public health charity Medact, said: “It is shocking that someone who has lived in the UK and paid taxes for decades has been denied crucial cancer treatment due to his inability to pay a large bill for his radiotherapy. This goes against the ideals of the NHS.”