Access to primary health care for asylum seekers and refugees: a qualitative study of service user experiences in the UK

Cara Kang, Louise Tomkow, Rebecca Farrington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Asylum seekers and refugees (ASR) face difficulty accessing health care in host countries. In 2017, NHS charges for overseas visitors were extended to include some community care for refused asylum seekers. There is growing concern that this will increase access difficulties, but no recent research has documented the lived experiences of ASR accessing UK primary health care.

Aim: To examine ASR experiences accessing primary health care in the UK in 2018.

Design and setting: This was a qualitative community-based study. ASR were recruited by criterion-based sampling through voluntary community organisations.

Method: A total of 18 ASR completed face-to-face semi-structured recorded interviews discussing primary care access. Transcripts underwent thematic analysis by three researchers using Penchansky and Thomas’s modified theory of access.

Results: The qualitative data show that participants found primary care services difficult to navigate and negotiate. Dominant themes included language barriers and inadequate interpretation services; lack of awareness of the structure and function of the NHS; difficulty meeting the costs of dental care, prescription fees, and transport to appointments; and the perception of discrimination relating to race, religion, and immigration status.

Conclusion: By centralising the voices of ASR and illustrating the negative consequences of poor healthcare access, this article urges consideration of how access to primary care in the UK can be enhanced for often marginalised individuals with complex needs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e537-e545
Number of pages9
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Issue number685
Early online date11 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019


  • access to health care
  • asylum seekers
  • qualitative research
  • refugees

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute


Dive into the research topics of 'Access to primary health care for asylum seekers and refugees: a qualitative study of service user experiences in the UK'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this