EU enlargement after 2004 was a major factor in increasing Eastern European migration to the UK. This population requires access to high quality public services generally, and ambulance services more specifically. To understand how Eastern European migrants use ambulance care, this study explored the perceptions and experiences of ambulance staff and the Eastern European patients themselves.
We undertook qualitative semi-structured interviews across Lincolnshire. Purposive and maximum variation sampling ensured that participants were knowledgeable about Eastern European patients’ use of ambulance care and were demographically diverse. Data were analysed using framework analysis.
There were interviews with 15 ambulance staff and 12 Eastern European patients. A staff interviewee problematised “Health Tourism”, which suggests that migrants deliberately exploit state-funded healthcare. However, most disagreed. Patient interviewees often undertook medical travel to access healthcare in response to perceived healthcare problems in the UK. Medical travel increased the likelihood of ambulance staff encountering foreign medication. Variable quality of, and access to, professional interpreters prompted patients to rely instead on informal interpreters. Patients did not register with GPs perhaps due to limited understanding of how the NHS worked. This led to inappropriate use of ambulance services. Recommendations for service delivery improvements included: Eastern European language information on how and when to use ambulance care; improving GP registration; and greater engagement between the ambulance service and Eastern European communities.
Frequent medical travel can limit how Eastern Europeans acculturate to the NHS and anchor roots in the UK. Acculturation is about how migrant cultures adjust to the host country. This is not assimilation, where they dilute their cultural identity. Language and communication barriers, as well as inadequate availability and quality of interpreting services, can impede patient-staff dialogue in time-critical emergencies.
University of Lincoln, College of Social Science Research
Viet-Hai Phung, University of Lincoln, School of Health and Social Care and Community and Health Research Unit (CaHRU)
Zahid Asghar, University of Lincoln, School of Health and Social Care and Community and Health Research Unit (CaHRU)
Sundari Anitha, University of Lincoln, School of Social and Political Sciences
Niro Siriwardena, University of Lincoln, School of Health and Social Care and Community and Health Research Unit (CaHRU)