Albert Thompson, the Windrush victim who was denied NHS cancer care, has finally been given a date for the radiotherapy treatment he was due to begin last November, before hospital staff questioned his immigration status.
Thompson, 63, said he was “very excited” to hear that a 33-day radiotherapy programme was scheduled to start on 1 May, but was surprised by the sudden rush to resolve the situation after six months of extreme anxiety.
“They are scared of all the publicity in the media; it has really shaken them up,” he said.
Last week, after Theresa May announced that Thompson would “get the treatment he needs” – while noting with legalistic precision that he was not part of the Windrush group (having arrived in the UK a few months after the cut-off date – the Royal Marsden hospital appeared in no hurry to start treatment. Thompson (not his real name) received a letter inviting him for blood tests in a few weeks’ time.
On Monday, however, the hospital called to say an earlier appointment had become free, and sent a car to collect him. On Tuesday, Thompson met his consultant, who said the radiotherapy should begin.
Thompson’s immigration status remains uncertain, although he has an appointment to meet officials from the new Windrush taskforce on Friday, and it is not clear what has prompted the sudden rush.
“The Home Office has known about my problems for years. I think this is all down to the media noise,” Thompson said.
His immigration problems meant that he was made homeless last summer, and spent several weeks sleeping rough.
The Tottenham MP, David Lammy, who has intensified pressure on the government over the Windrush scandal, welcomed the news, but asked: “Why has it taken newspaper exposes and questions at prime minister’s questions for Albert to get access to the NHS treatments he needs – as is his right?
“Why has it taken so long for the government to act to address this Windrush scandal – shamed into finally doing so after dragging their feet for so many months?”
What is the Windrush deportation crisis?
Who are the Windrush generation?
They are people who arrived in the UK after the second world war from Caribbean countries at the invitation of the British government. The first group arrived on the ship MV Empire Windrush in June 1948.
What is happening to them?
An estimated 50,000 people face the risk of deportation if they never formalised their residency status and do not have the required documentation to prove it.
Why is this happening now?
It stems from a policy, set out by Theresa May when she was home secretary, to make the UK ‘a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants’. It requires employers, NHS staff, private landlords and other bodies to demand evidence of people’s citizenship or immigration status.
Why do they not have the correct paperwork and status?
Some children, often travelling on their parents’ passports, were never formally naturalised and many moved to the UK before the countries in which they were born became independent, so they assumed they were British. In some cases, they did not apply for passports. The Home Office did not keep a record of people entering the country and granted leave to remain, which was conferred on anyone living continuously in the country since before 1 January 1973.
What is the government doing to resolve the problem?
On Monday, the home secretary Amber Rudd announced the creation of a new Home Office team dedicated to ensuring that Commonwealth-born long-term UK residents would no longer find themselves classified as being in the UK illegally.
Thompson said he did not blame his consultant, but noted that he did not get any apology or explanation for the six-month delay during his appointment.
“There was no mention of me paying for the treatment this time; everything is going to be on the NHS,” he said. At his appointment in November, he was told the cost of treatment for those ineligible for NHS care was £54,000.
“I’m not quite happy yet, not until I get everything sorted. This has been a very scary time. At least I am still here to tell the story.”
Windrush scandal: Albert Thompson on his £54,000 cancer bill – video
Lammy said nine Windrush cases had come forward in his constituency in the last 12 hours.
“Are each of these individuals expected to go to the media in order to get the rights that are theirs and have been taken away from them? This is not about a benevolent government choosing to grant rights to certain individuals – this is about Windrush children reclaiming the rights that are theirs in the first place.”
Thompson arrived in London from Jamaica as a teenager in 1973 to join his mother who was working as a nurse. He has been here 44 years, working as a mechanic and paying taxes until he became ill with cancer and had to stop work.
Official suspicion about his immigration status led to his eviction and three weeks of homelessness before a charity housed him. When he arrived for his first radiotherapy session he was told he would have to pay for his treatment unless he could prove he was eligible for free NHS care.
Emmy Malia, a St Mungo’s support worker who has been working with Thompson since December, attended the appointment with him on Tuesday.
“There was no acknowledgement of what had happened. It was just like a routine appointment. I wish now we had asked outright why there was a delay, but we were just both stunned,” she said.
A Royal Marsden spokesperson said: “Mr Thompson has attended the Royal Marsden this week to plan the next stage of his treatment and has a date to start his radiotherapy. He is being treated as an NHS patient.”
The Home Office was approached for comment.
Laura Stahnke, of Praxis, the charity helping Thompson with his immigration problems, said: “We are all delighted. Nevertheless the fact that he had to go through an endless series of media interviews having his case debated in parliament, in order to access his right to healthcare is scandalous.”