Ukrainian refugees in Britain are making return trips to their homeland to receive medical treatment instead of waiting to access the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) after a spate of strikes brought the public healthcare system to its knees.
A report by British news outlet inews cited a number of instances in which those who had fled the conflict in Ukraine simply gave up on long wait times to access medical care in Britain, opting instead for the perilous 24-hour journey to the war-torn country to be seen by a medical professional almost immediately.
The left-wing news outlet used the reports to criticize Britain’s governing Conservative party, which has been locked in fierce, long-running negotiations with unions of NHS workers demanding pay rises in line with Britain’s inflation.
inews detailed the account of one refugee, Maiia Habruk, who reportedly fled the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv last year to settle in southeast London. After suffering a severe toothache, she logged her symptoms on an NHS chatroom and was told to expect a call from a medical professional the following day. This never happened, so she went to her local Accident and Emergency (A&E) department, also without success.
“After waiting four hours, the doctor didn’t even look at me, and she also told me to take paracetamol. Again, it didn’t help, and I was still in severe pain,” Ms. Habruk told the news outlet.
She ended up traveling back to Ukraine via Poland where she says she was seen by a doctor immediately.
“I was told it was an urgent issue with my wisdom tooth and that I had to have an extraction immediately.
“I do not in any way want to criticize the NHS. I think it’s amazing that everyone can get help for free,” she added.
The Ukrainian woman told the news outlet she knew of three others residing in London who had opted to return to war-torn Ukraine for medical treatment instead of waiting to use Britain’s public healthcare system.
Another Ukrainian woman living in the Scottish city of Glasgow, whose healthcare system is managed by the devolved left-wing Scottish government, also reportedly traveled home for medical treatment, according to Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton, who raised the issue with Scotland’s First Minister earlier this week.
Some members of the public took to social media to question whether it is right that those choosing to make trips back to Ukraine remain entitled to claim asylum in Britain.
“If they are able to and willing also to return to Ukraine then they weren’t a ‘refugee,'” wrote one social media user, while another said: “If the refugee can go home to see their doctor, then why are they in the U.K.? If it’s safe to see your doctor, it can’t be unsafe to live there too.”
A third added: “Odd definition of refugee if they’re going back to their native country for appointments. Very odd indeed!”
The U.K.’s Conservative government announced in March last year that Ukrainians arriving in England are eligible for free-of-charge access to NHS healthcare, including GP and nurse consultations, hospital services, and urgent care centers.
However, nurses and ambulance staff in England have been on strike over the winter as they attempt to force the government’s hand to agree to pay hikes. The strikes have seen millions of Brits waiting even longer for medical appointments and ambulance response times being the worst on record.
Two more 12-hour nurse strikes have been organized for next week, while ambulance staff will walk out again on Jan. 23 if no suitable compromise over pay has been agreed upon.