The Home Office has been threatened with legal action over an HIV patient who continues to be denied life-saving treatment while being held in an immigration detention centre, The Independent has learned.
The 42-year-old man, who was awaiting deportation to Jamaica, relies on daily medication to manage his condition, and says the dosages for his other ailments, schizophrenia and depression, have been reduced by staff at Colnbrook Immigration Centre.
A solicitor at Duncan Lewis law firm has submitted a pre-action letter to the government stating an intention to take them to court over a failure to “operate a safe and lawful system for individuals with HIV in detention” and the subjection of their client to an “unacceptably high risk of contracting Covid-19” prior to or whilst on the scheduled charter flight.
The 36-page document, seen by The Independent, argues that the Home Office has breached human rights and equalities legislation following a lack of risk assessment in respect of their client’s detention and adherence to safeguarding policies which points to unlawful imprisonment.
Solicitor Jamie Bell, who is representing the detainee, said: “We remain increasingly concerned that our client reports that he is now into his seventh day detained and his seventh day without his life-saving HIV medication.
“We are particularly concerned that in the absence of his medication, our client will become vulnerable to serious infection in the midst of a Covid outbreak within the detention centre.
“It is deeply surprising that the Home Office continues to detain HIV positive individuals after having been found to have unlawfully failed to have a policy in place to safeguard those with HIV within their detention centres.”
The Home Office has until 4.30pm on Monday to respond to the pre-action letter.
Seth Ramocan, Jamaica’s high commissioner in London, has also attempted to get information from the Home Office about the case but The Independent understands that efforts to engage have not been reciprocated.
A high court judge ruled in July that the Home Office had failed to put in place systems to protect detainees with HIV, after a man was denied life-saving medication for four days.
According to the Terrence Higgins Trust, not taking regular HIV medication can allow the virus to grow and can also increase the chance of developing resistance.
Dr Laura Waters, chair of the British HIV Association, told The Independent that denying him necessary medication is a breach of his human rights.
Any interruption of HIV treatment can, she said, “lead to a rapid decline in health, and a real risk of life-threatening infections. In addition, the virus may develop resistance to medication making it difficult to find an effective treatment.
“This is why we strongly recommend that HIV treatment should not be stopped, even for a short time.
“People awaiting deportation are entitled to continuation of any treatment they are already on, not just for HIV, so it is wrong for the Home Office to have allowed any of his essential medication to be stopped – this is a breach of his human rights.”
Hannah Ward, Director of Policy at National AIDS Trust, has also criticised the Home Office after learning of this case, adding: “Detention should always be a last resort. If continuity of medication cannot be guaranteed the person must not be detained.”
Leading equalities campaigner Peter Tatchell said it is an “outrageous violation of human rights” to deny the patient care.
“This neglect is symptomatic of the sub-standard conditions in the UK’s immigration detention centres and is another consequence of the government’s ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy,” he told The Independent.
Despite repeated requests since last week, Mr Bell has not received documentation from the Home Office outlining the grounds for his continued detainment. On Friday, the Home Office said the man is no longer facing removal from the UK on the upcoming deportation flight to Jamaica.
The patient has lived in the UK for more than 30 years and was detained last Monday after enforcement officers “kicked his door off” and seized him at his home in the early hours of the morning.
Speaking to The Independent from his cell at Colnbrook, he said: “You can’t let someone suffer the way they’re making me suffer. What else do I need to do to show them that how they’re treating me is wrong?”
Colnbrook is currently attempting to contain a Covid-19 outbreak and the man, whose immune system is already compromised, is worried about contracting the virus – especially when using spaces, such as the exercise yard, which are also used by people who have coronavirus.
The Birmingham resident, who arrived in the UK from Jamaica aged 11, was scheduled to be deported to Jamaica this Wednesday.
Addressing concerns around the patient being denied HIV treatment, a spokesperson said: “All immigration removal centres have dedicated, 24-hour on-site medical facilities, including access to independent doctors and nurses.
“All decisions, including the prescribing of medication and dosage, relating to an individual’s medical needs are decided by an independent doctor.”