Low GP access rates among Latin Americans in UK raise vaccine concerns

Charity says one in seven are not registered, and three in four cannot work from home

Covid vaccine centre
‘The high proportion of Latin Americans not registered with a GP raises questions about their potential exclusion from health programmes,’ the report said. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Concerns are mounting that members of the Latin American community in London will miss out on vaccinations, after a survey found that one in seven low-paid Latin Americans are not registered with GPs.

There are an estimated 250,000 Latin Americans living in the UK, half of whom live in London, making them the eighth largest ethnic group in the capital. Poor digital access compounds problems with accessing health services, as four in 10 of those surveyed said they had no internet at home and 15% had no devices.

“The high proportion of Latin Americans not registered with a GP raises questions about their potential exclusion from health programmes, including the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine,” a report by the Brixton charity Indoamerican Refugee and Migrant Organisation (IRMO) said.

The ONS and Public Health England do not hold official data on Latin Americans in the UK. “Latin American” will not be an ethnicity option in the 2021 census, though Latin Americans can self-identify.

Lucía Vinzón, the IRMO’s director, said: “There’s no official information about how many Latin Americans were affected by Covid. That’s why we did this report. Our goal is to get recognition so all these things can be monitored, we can access services, the voice will be heard, we have representation, and access to the vaccine will be guaranteed.”

The charity surveyed 170 low-paid Latin Americans mostly living in London and found that half were out of work during the first wave of the pandemic and a third were facing food poverty.

Many had been dismissed from insecure jobs in cleaning and hospitality, while others received limited furlough payments for reduced hours during the pandemic, Vinzón said.

Those who have registered with a GP often face language barriers. One Dominican woman said: “I’m diabetic and I’ve got high blood pressure, so I need more treatment than others. I took an appointment with a nurse at a GP in south London and when I arrived I asked for a translator. She said: ‘In this country we speak English not Spanish,’ and she wouldn’t treat me.”

Roxana Mijuel Sirias Mijia joined her husband, Eduardo, in the UK in 2019 after he fled Nicaragua, where he worked as a police officer, and sought asylum in 2018. All asylum seekers with an active application are entitled to free NHS care, but she says she was turned away three times when she tried to register with a GP in Lambeth.

“The first time they didn’t have a translator, then they said my documents weren’t right, then they said they lost them,” she said.

The need for a vaccine is all the more pressing because 77% of those surveyed said they could not work from home, and many work in occupations at greater risk of catching Covid-19.

The Dominican woman will return to work as a cleaner once she recovers from a knee injury, taking buses to the school and offices she cleans. She said: “Imagine going to work now. It leaves me with a problem, even though I’m diabetic, when I get better I’ll have to keep going to work.”

The Department of Health and Social Care said: “In conjunction with the NHS, we are working closely with communities to support people eligible for a vaccine and this includes using community champions who can answer questions and dispel myths about Covid-19 vaccines.

“The vaccine is free and we want to give everyone the opportunity to access one, and NHS regional teams are reaching out to unregistered people to ensure they are offered the vaccine.”