Migrants face barriers to accessing health and social services, committee hears

Patients applying for asylum ‘regularly’ denied services as they cannot speakers English

Migrant communities in Ireland face many barriers to accessing health and social services, in addition to discrimination and negative attitudes towards them, TDs and Senators have heard.

The joint Oireachtas committee on children, equality, disability, integration and youth on Tuesday discussed the experiences of migrant communities when engaging with State bodies.

It heard that Muslim women face barriers when accessing maternity care, both before and after births, as well as “micro aggressions” and general negative attitudes towards them in hospitals.

Yara Alagha, a board member of Amal Association, a women-led organisation providing frontline services to Muslim women, was speaking to the committee about research, led by Dr Camilla Fitzsimons from Maynooth University and supported by Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), which explored Muslim women's experiences in maternity care settings in Ireland.

The researchers also surveyed healthcare workers on their experiences in caring for Muslim women. The findings of the research alluded to a “systematic issue” in healthcare settings, Ms Alagha said.

It found 15 per cent of Muslim women experienced incidences of verbal abuse including being shouted at and told to remove their headscarves, she said, adding that there were “huge discrepancies” in the State’s healthcare system when it came to accommodating and providing “culturally appropriate healthcare”.

Culturally specific

Some 74 per cent of healthcare workers were unaware of any policies in respect of providing culturally specific care for Muslim women, the research found. More than one in three (31 per cent) healthcare workers said they had witnessed racism and discrimination towards Muslim women by other health workers.

A lack of interpreting services "impedes" the ability of health and social services in Ireland to understand the needs of non-English speaking migrants, Fiona O Reilly, chief executive of Safetynet Primary Care, told the committee.

Many refugees required interpreters but did not have access to them and patients applying for asylum “regularly had services they needed denied” because they were only equipped to see English speakers, she said.

GPs and other parts of the health system did not have access to interpreters, resulting in “an inability to communicate effectively with their patients” .

Additionally, navigating health and social care services requires literacy and digital literacy skills, which Ms O’Reilly said presented “a barrier to those that do not possess these skills”.

Email addresses

Common issues included filling out online forms and the requirement for email addresses. Other migrants could not afford transport to appointments that are not within walking distance of their home, the committee heard.

There was a “high burden of proof” of ordinary residency and the healthcare system did not recognise that some people live without a bank account or utility bill, Ms O’Reilly said, adding that the medical card application process was “complex”.

She said staff in healthcare settings had a “lack of awareness” about the challenges faced and trauma endured by different categories of migrants, which meant that care was “not always appropriate to need”.