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On Friday 20th September, City of Sanctuary together with Bradford University, held the first of its kind conference bringing together over 100 people including NHS commissioning officers, a wide range of health practitioners and voluntary sector workers to discuss key issues in overcoming health inequalities for sanctuary seekers.

City of Sanctuary Trustee, Jonathan Ellis (also Head of Policy, Research and Advocacy British Red Cross) began the day by putting the issues into context with a speech to inspire ambassadors for sanctuary seekers. Dr Mel Cooper, School of Health Studies Lecturer presented a research based model for health practitioners to understand the service user within the global context. This was based on an inclusive model for midwifery education to address the needs of recently arrived migrant women in the UK and drew our attention to the various factors at the micro, macro and global levels that impact on health needs. Permjeet Dhoot from the NHS Equality and Health Inequalities Team described the appalling levels of inequality in outcomes for sanctuary seekers. She reminded delegates of the higher maternal mortality rates, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in this vulnerable group and the NHS duty of care expressed in legislation including the Human Rights and Equality Acts and the need for a humane, person centred and holistic approach to health care.

A choice of morning and afternoon workshops covered a range of topics including maternity and women’s health, good practice in interpreting services, mental health, infectious diseases, migrant access to health services, models of primary care for vulnerable migrants, innovation in the voluntary sector, needs and experiences of unaccompanied sanctuary seeking children, and supporting sanctuary seeking health care professionals to practice in the UK.

Key conference highlights were the valued contributions by sanctuary seekers themselves who told their stories both in the main sessions and at each workshop. Powerful tales that raised awareness of who sanctuary seekers really are, stories that should influence policy and the design and delivery of services to be more accessible and effective. Stories that drew attention to unnecessary pain and suffering; about mental health, pregnancy and birth, diabetes and epilepsy, surgery and cancer, medication and neglect, misunderstandings and even death. In addition Ice and Fire Theatre Company read two harrowing testimonies from Turkish born Kinan and Zimbabwean Thelma putting health issues into the everyday reality of dispersal, poverty, criminalisation and isolation suffered by sanctuary seekers. All these stories were hugely appreciated by delegates and conference organisers and provided real insights into the issues to be addressed.

Bill McCarthy National Director of Policy, NHS England summed up the conference at the end highlighting the need for health practitioners to learn and to listen: “If you don’t understand the group you are trying to help … you need to hear from the experts in that group” and the importance of creative collaboration across services to find solutions by meeting the whole person’s needs. Strategic partnerships between the public, voluntary and NHS sectors and Health and Wellbeing Boards may be key to progress in this area. The end of day panel included an asylum seeker and a consultant and answered a range of questions raised by workshop groups addressing some outstanding issues. Delegates left with a variety of resources, new contacts and an enthusiasm to take the message back to their workplaces.
Feedback from participants included; “Greatly exceeded my expectations. Valuable information.”, “Made excellent contacts” and “A very informative and engaging event”.

A suggestion to set up a discussion forum to carry on the excellent learning provided by the day was taken up by City of Sanctuary. Anyone interested in engaging in discussion, sharing of resources and good practice can join in by subscribing to the “Sanctuary Seekers and Health Care” list at

Some of the resources from this event are attached in the files below

Hearing the Voices of Refugees in Policy and Practice – Hilaire Agnama Regional Refugee Forum

Sanctuary Seekers and Health Care – Jonathan Ellis Keynote Speech

Equality Duties to Sanctuary Seekers accessing Health Care – Permjeet Dhoot NHS Equalities and Inequalities Team

Ice & Fire Introduction to the Monologue performances

Migrant Access to Health Care – The Issues (Migrants’ Rights Network)