Dr Ian Campbell has been a GP in Carlton for 30 years. Here he has his say on the Ukrainian refugee crisis – and it’s potential impact on the NHS
Just as it seemed we might, just might, be emerging from the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, we were hardly expecting the new threat of a war in Europe, not only in Ukraine, but perhaps further afield across the continent too.
And with several million people having already fled Ukraine to escape the violence much attention has been given to the acute refugee crisis we now face across Europe. Millions of people, men women and children, who have had to leave behind everything they possess, now face a bleak, uncertain future. The United Kingdom is rightly opening its doors to allow some people at least to take refuge here. But can we cope?
The NHS, both hospitals and General Practice, is already struggling to cope with the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and years of financial restraint. Do we really have the capacity to meet even more demand from hundreds of thousands of new, desperately in need refugees? Yes, it might challenge our resources even more, but could we morally, compassionately or humanely, do anything else?
A few years ago we at Park House Medical Centre were among the first Practices in Nottingham to welcome some new patients, recently arrived from Syria, some of the first refugees to arrive in the UK during the really difficult years of the Syrian refugee crisis, from 2011 .
But a “refugee crisis” is nothing new. 2000 years ago hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee Palestine (which included Syria). King Herod was on a mission to kill all new born males. And in the early 20th century millions fled their homes all across Europe, to escape the brutality of the First World War as ruling European families settled their personal disagreements by sending millions of innocent young people to the battlefields.
And once again, just 20 years later, in the late 1930s and 1940s there were refugees in all corners of the world, as people of all cultures and all religions tried to escape the ravages and brutality of World War Two, instigated by political leaders fuelled by heinous religious bigotry and an insatiable hunger for power over others. Sadly, as we can now see, people today are still fleeing murderous political leaders, and some, only some, will find sanctity in the UK. And while I don’t know how many people will come here from the Ukraine, we can be sure that some will find their way to Nottinghamshire and to Gedling.
Gedling borough has a bigger refugee “problem” than you might realise. There are many refugees already living amongst us, having escaped various conflicts and persecution, and many have been fortunate to find work, education, homes and maintain good health. There are others however who have not been so fortunate, who remain in state organised accommodation, often living in cramped, squalid conditions, living on the breadline, coping with physical and mental ill health, and unable to escape the impoverished conditions in which they have to live. Men, women and children, who’s only desire is to live a safe, healthy life, in peace.
As a GP I’ve looked after refugees from different areas of the world, Syria, the Balkans, parts of Africa, and indeed many of our older patients were themselves once refugees from war torn Europe 80 years ago. Frightened, ill, destitute and often severely traumatised by their experiences they are often desperately in need of shelter, medical care and compassion when they arrive.
Some patients, including young children we’ve cared for have had horrific injuries from bombings, shootings and gas attacks. But war related injuries are just a part of it. Often they have chronic ill health, untreated because of lack of access to, or inability to pay for, healthcare. Mental ill health is very common too, as individuals cope with the psychological trauma of what they have seen, experienced, or lost. And although the NHS has never been under more pressure than it has of late, we should open our doors and offer them the help they so desperately need, and deserve.
In my experience the refugees I have been fortunate enough to get to know have been, without exception hugely appreciative of the welcome they have received in this country. There is a fantastic book, “This is where I am”, written by Karen Campbell (yes, a relative, my sister in law), described when it was published just a few years ago, as “one of the best books of the year”, which really brought home to me how difficult life for a refugee can be, and why no one would do it by choice. Drawing on her husband’s, my brother’s, real life experience of working with refugees, helping them to integrate into British society, Karen portrays vividly and movingly the real desperation they feel. They don’t come here by choice. They come because they have no choice.
A senior politician once said that the way a national government treats refugees, is a measure of how they would treat us, the common people, if they could. We need to ensure our government listens to the caring and compassionate voice of the British people. Many have said we should not “stand idly by” and do nothing. I agree. We should offer friendship and support to desperate people from wherever they might come. And we should offer them a chance to rebuild their lives, and live amongst us as valued members of society. I hope that one day we might never see this type of incident ever again.
But until such time as it stops, our Practice is proud to say “Refugees welcome here”.
May we all be able to look forward to a peaceful, safe and hopeful future.