Vulnerable migrants’ access to healthcare in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK

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Objectives: To understand the living conditions, changes in the service user profile, and needs of vulnerable migrants trying to access healthcare in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Study design: Mixed methods study; using quantitative questionnaire data collected from migrant service users of Doctors of the World UK (DOTW UK) with qualitative data from free-text notes.

Methods: DOTW UK provides drop-in clinics to vulnerable migrants. Consultations switched to remote during the UK's first lockdown. We compared patient profile, well-being, healthcare access and reason for consultations of individuals attending the virtual clinic between March and September 2020 to those of the prepandemic periods between 2011 and 2018.

Results: During the pandemic, consultations dropped to under half of the prepandemic numbers, with the shift to remote consultations attracting more users outside of London. DOTW UK's user base changed to include a greater proportion of asylum seekers, younger adults (18–34) and individuals reporting good health. Socio-economic conditions and housing stability deteriorated for the majority of users. Those in the greatest need of healthcare appeared to be less able to access remote services. General practitioner (GP) registration remained the most common reason for contacting the virtual clinic with a lack of knowledge of the healthcare system being the main barrier to access.

Conclusion: The shift to virtual consultations may have exacerbated existing inequalities in healthcare access for vulnerable migrants. Given that many clinical services continue to operate remotely, it is important to consider the impact such actions have on vulnerable migrants and find ways to support access.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-42
Number of pages7
JournalPublic Health
Early online date15 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Nuffield Foundation [project 755646 ], ESRC IAA funds at the University of Birmingham .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Royal Society for Public Health


  • COVID-19
  • Migrants
  • Well-being
  • Healthcare
  • Barriers
  • Remote consultations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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