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How Cardiff makes sure refugees get the health care they need

THE National Health Service has held a prime position in headlines recently – but rarely is there mention of those such as asylum seekers and refugees who can be excluded from the most basic health care.

In Wales we do not pay for prescriptions, but access to free health care here is far from straightforward for many residents.

When people first arrive in the capital they go through Cardiff Health Access Practice. Yet many then struggle to navigate the health care system after this initial stage.

Oasis Cardiff, Splott.

Oasis Cardiff, Splott.

Oasis Cardiff, a Splott-based centre for asylum seekers and refugees, has various support systems available to help.

The centre encourages people to register with a local GP and works to combat the difficulties of gaining health care for many of their vulnerable visitors.

Last week Oasis launched a new Befriending Scheme, which trains 10 women to help 10 female asylum seekers and refugees in their day-to-day lives.

Reynette Roberts, co-founder of Oasis, said asylum seekers and refugees encounter health care problems due to confusion about processes or fear of getting into trouble of some kind.

“People do not necessarily understand the appointments system or the medication given. Sometimes they might call 999 for non-emergencies such as a sore tooth,” said Mrs Roberts.

In November 2015 Oasis began supplementing their daily language classes with twice-weekly classes exclusively for women. The number of women learning English has since doubled to more than 20.

Socialising at Oasis Cardiff.

Socialising at Oasis Cardiff.

Within these classes asylum seekers and refugees learn how to hold conversations with doctors, among other useful life lessons.

The centre’s staff includes a Syrian refugee doctor, Hussam, and a trustee who works as a GP.

As for the issue of mental health, Mrs Roberts believes that services are limited in Cardiff: “There is a year’s waiting list for counselling.

“An Eritrean man recently said to me: ‘What is depression? We don’t have a word for that.’ A lot of people wouldn’t understand their own symptoms.

“They might struggle to sleep and have post-traumatic stress disorder but not realise it is depression.”

Sexual health care is an area that Oasis visitors may access more easily.

The Terrence Higgins Trust holds rapid tests for HIV at Oasis around four times a year. A HIV Fast Test service is also open to all on Tuesday evenings at its clinic on Churchill Way in central Cardiff.

The Trust’s Support Services and Advice Manager, Sarah Fuhrmann, said: “We do target BME groups as they tend to be less likely to access our services – perhaps due to stigma in communities or dynamics in relationships.

“All our clinical services are unfunded so we prioritise HIV testing, but we identify someone if they won’t go on to have further tests due to a chaotic lifestyle or vulnerability.

“For those who are living with HIV, we offer one-on-one counselling without a waiting list if people qualify for this service.”

Cardiff and Vale University Health Board are refusing to respond to inquiries from The Cardiffian.

Click to find out more about Oasis Cardiff and the Terrence Higgins Trust.

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