The Human Rights Act and the NHS: How Theresa May’s proposals go beyond Abu Qatada
Theresa May’s proposal to scrap the UK Human Rights Act (HRA) and withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is clearly not just motivated by government legal difficulties over the extradition of Abu Qatada. Her proposal also directly engages with a deep popular fear that current HRA and ECHR legislation would allow a huge wave of new EU immigrants into the UK. Under current HRA and ECHR regulations, such immigrants would acquire the right of free access to healthcare in the NHS. The Eastleigh election recently highlighted the huge potential cost of these health and welfare rights for EU immigrants and May’s new proposal directly provides a simple legal route towards not paying them.
At first sight, the logic of May’s proposal in this NHS context appears straightforward. If you repeal the HRA, you are no longer obliged to observe the general ‘rights to life’, or the duty to ’safeguard life’, contained in Article 2 of the ECHR. You will then also no longer be legally bound to provide any free healthcare for those who have not contributed to the system. This is a simple reflex response, which serves both to save millions of pounds and to calm potential future Tory voters (like those temporarily lost in Eastleigh), who are fundamentally reluctant to subsidize any immigrant healthcare. But what about all those other people who are currently covered by these HRA basic healthcare rights in the NHS, who may not be old enough, fortunate enough, or even able enough to contribute to the national insurance system: for example, children, the disabled, the mentally ill, the persecuted, the poor, the destitute or the elderly?
In this context, the May proposal also significantly fails to mention a further two vital HRA and ECHR safeguards concerning basic human rights to healthcare provision: first Article 3 which prohibits medical involvement or tolerance of torture and Article 14 which prohibits any kind of racist, religious or political discrimination practised or condoned in healthcare (and immigrants may now come to take up new prominence in this category). We should also note that a British Army officer Dr Derek Keilloh was accused of failing to report evidence of torture on the Iraqi detainee Baha Mousa in June 2012.
It is alarming that these basic human rights that protect a minimum of healthcare and respect for others may come to be so easily and uncritically jettisoned. But it is even more troubling that such a proposal can be based solely on the grounds of cost and austerity.Tagged in: Abu Qatada, Baha Mousa, eastleigh, echr, human rights act, theresa may
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