Seeking asylum stresses a person’s health – both physically and mentally
by Julia Burne
I have volunteered for Doncaster Conversation Club for 10 years now (where did those 10 years go since my retirement from the NHS?). In those 10 years there have been many changes – both in the way services from the NHS are offered and also in the way we at Doncaster Conversation Club are offering support.
The most obvious problems are the difficulties in accessing GP appointments, seeing someone face to face and having no personal continuity of care. This is a national problem – but is compounded for people seeking asylum by the lack of understanding of how the system works and language difficulties. Interpreters can be accessed by phone during consultations more easily than 10 years ago – though only if the clinician chooses to use this service.
Lack of ability to register with a dentist as an NHS patient is again a national problem. In some ways it is more urgent for people seeking asylum. The emergency dental service can only treat one tooth at a time and usually ends up just offering tooth extraction and cannot offer dentures or full root canal fillings. I know a number of youngish people have poor self-esteem due to lack of teeth – and difficulty in eating.
In the last few years, more people seeking asylum have been housed in the villages surrounding Doncaster. It’s a bus ride to access appropriate food outlets, the mosque, meeting others in the asylum system. The isolation increases stress.
DCC has developed over the last 10 years. We have responded to the changing situation as it has arisen and have tried to find ways to ameliorate the negative impact on health. Some of the DCC are seeking asylum themselves. They help with greeting people on arrival at DCC and teasing out what interventions are needed. Their interpreting skills are invaluable and they are also able to help people directly with GP registrations and accessing medication. Sometimes we need to be pro-active in helping someone access GP services or to advocate for them at these services. The attendance of the GP on the health bus twice a month is very welcome.
The ‘office team’ led by Jan have kept abreast of developments in the asylum system and are skilled at signposting people to appropriate national and local services. Again, this may seem unrelated to health issues – but having somewhere to go with questions is stress relieving.
We try when possible to develop a sense of community and belonging. I see the DCC ESOL lessons, football sessions and occasional outings as all contributing to preventing deterioration of mental health.
So, although some things have definitely become worse when it comes to health over the last ten years there are some positives too.
I remain impressed by how so many people in the asylum system show resilience, a wish to help others and a determination to find a way through the system. In the end, when these people are offered status and become UK citizens these attributes will benefit not only themselves, but the UK as a whole.