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{UAH} 'Shameful': widespread outrage over man denied NHS cancer care

'Shameful': widespread outrage over man denied NHS cancer care

'Indefensible' that Londoner living in UK for 44 years was told to pay upfront for treatment

Albert Thompson
 Albert Thompson arrived in the UK from Jamaica as a teenager in 1973. Photograph: Jill Mead/for the Guardian

Politicians, doctors and cancer charities have responded with outrage to the case of a Londoner asked to pay £54,000 for cancer treatment because he was unable to provide evidence of residency, despite having lived here for 44 years.

Albert Thompson, 63, arrived in the UK from Jamaica as a teenager in 1973, and has lived here continuously ever since. He is currently not receiving the radiotherapy treatment he needs for prostate cancer because the London hospital where he was due to be treated told him he needed to provide proof of residencyor pay upfront for treatment.

The Royal Marsden hospital apologised for the "distress and uncertainty" caused to Thompson, who was due to start treatment there last November, adding: "We are working hard to try to resolve this as quickly as possible."

Labour's shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, said the case was "shameful"; the British Medical Association described it as "morally indefensible", and Macmillan Cancer said his situation needed to be resolved speedily.

Thompson, who has asked for his real name not to be used after legal advice, worked as a mechanic in London, paying taxes for more than three decades, until his cancer diagnosis made it impossible for him to continue working. He said he was hoping that the publicity around his case would persuade the hospital to rethink its decision to deny him NHS cancer treatment, and would also help him get his immigration status resolved. "I want the treatment started – the cancer is the most important thing at present. I get a pain when I cough, and I'm worried," he said.

Thompson is one of a large number of people who arrived in the UK with their parents from Commonwealth countries, who grew up believing themselves to be British – only to discover, as immigration rules have hardened, that they need documentary proof of their right to be here, which many do not have.

Last October the Department of Health published new guidance highlighting NHS trusts' legal responsibility for charging overseas visitors. Subsequently, Thompson was told that unless he could provide documents to prove that he was "ordinarily resident and legally entitled to live in the UK", he would be required to pay for treatment "in full, in advance".

Ashworth said: "I think it is utterly shameful that a man who has been a UK resident for 44 years, who came as a teenager because his mum came to work as a nurse to care for our sick, who has lived here all his life, paid his taxes, should be denied cancer treatment in his way. I don't believe any reasonable person would think the system is working properly.

"We warned that these new regulations could prohibit UK residents from getting treatment and increase bureaucracy in the NHS. We need an urgent update from ministers on how many other long-term UK residents are affected like this."

News of his case prompted outrage from many MPs. Diane Abbott said the case was "inhumane", while David Lammy described it as "horrendous". The Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston said she was "very concerned … The right thing to do is to start the treatment and then sort out why this case has arisen, in my view."

The Royal Marsden NHS foundation trust hospital in Sutton.
 The Royal Marsden NHS foundation trust hospital in Sutton. Photograph: Alamy

Thompson's mother moved from Jamaica to the UK in the 1960s to work as a nurse. He married in Britain, and has two grown-up sons and a 15-year-old daughter. He has never applied for a British passport, and the Jamaican passport he arrived with was lost many years ago.


Thompson's lawyer, Jeremy Bloom, with Duncan Lewis Solicitors, was granted legal aid funding to take him with his immigration application on an exceptional basis on Monday (a decision which came through unexpectedly in the wake of the media attention, six weeks after it was applied for). In response to initial attempts by his lawyer to formalise his residency status, the Home Office said it had no record of Thompson arriving in the country.

A spokesperson for Praxis Community Projects, which is supporting Thompson, said:"Many people are in situations similar to Albert and more and more will emerge over time. These people have done nothing wrong."

Doctors were puzzled by why the cancer treatment was deemed to be non-urgent. A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "Our guidance makes clear that urgent and immediately necessary care should never be withheld or delayed, but the classification of urgent care is one that only local clinicians can make, and can only be done on a case-by-case basis."

The hospital said: "Following a clinical assessment, a urology consultant categorised the treatment need in Mr Thompson's case as non-urgent."

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA council chair, said: "It's hard to conceive how people who have lived in the UK for decades could be treated as visiting from overseas and not as an 'ordinary resident' eligible for free NHS care. Patients who've received diagnoses as serious as cancer are already distressed, and it's morally indefensible to allow these people to agonise about whether any delay to their care could mean the difference between life and death.

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