What happened next?
Mrs. Peace Abilowale
After I saw the doctor at Brick Lane, I was moved to Middlesbrough. I did not know what was happening. I thought I was being taken back to Uganda. I was very frightened and I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened at home.
I was alone. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened to Tom. And what happened to me.
I started imagining that I was back at home and I wasn’t safe. I thought they had come to find me. I received a letter from the Home Office. They had rejected my application for asylum. I was so scared. I felt like giving up. I was in hospital for some time. I don’t remember what happened there.
My case was appealed. I am back in London now and I can stay for five years. I do not know what will happen in the future but I feel stronger now. I have a place to live and have met other women from my country and made friends from other countries too. I am starting to feel more positive about my future.
I met Mrs. Abilowale at church. Straight away I knew she needed my help. She seemed very nervous and frightened and I knew she was unwell. I took her to see the doctor and she got the treatment she needed. It wasn’t until later that we found out she had been tortured in Uganda. She was relocated to Middlesbrough by the Home Office and I tried to stay in touch with her. We heard that she had a breakdown and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. I wish I had gone up to visit her and support her. She’s back in London now and we are doing our best at church to help her in any way we can.
Dr Charles Talbot
GP partner at Brick Lane General Practice
Mrs Peace Abilowale disclosed to my trainee, Dr Qureshi, that she had been a victim of torture. I was asked to submit a medical report to her immigration lawyers. I included all the information I had and asked Dr Qureshi to check that it was correct.
I did not see Mrs Abilowale again myself and later received a letter from the South Tees Mental Health Unit where she had been admitted with severe depression. I was disturbed to hear that she had deteriorated so significantly. I understand that she attempted suicide shortly after her claim for asylum was refused by the authorities. Some months later, after Peace returned to London, she gave Mrs Jones a copy of a medicolegal report which was written about her by an expert. It is being used by her lawyer to appeal the refusal of asylum. I wonder how much of this sad history I could have picked up in the brief time I had with her.”
I wanted to know what more I could have done and I looked up what my responsibilities as a health professional are. I was shocked to learn that Amnesty International had reported that torture was practised in 141 countries in 2014. There are several international treaties, regional treaties and ethical codes which prohibit torture, and also govern the responsibilities of health professionals regarding torture. I read up on these guidelines and led a teaching session for my colleagues to ensure that we are well-placed to support victims of torture within our practice.
Dr Aysha Qureshi
I moved to another practice one month after I saw Mrs Peace Abilowale and I didn’t see her again. I was deeply affected by hearing about her experience and wanted to find out what I can do to help other victims of torture.
I learned about the Istanbul Protocol which serves as a set of international guidelines for doctors and other professionals to follow in order to document and investigate cases of torture properly. I learned about the common physical and psychological signs of torture and how to document them.
I’ve started volunteering at a local clinic for refugees and other vulnerable people. I wish I could have done more to help Mrs Abilowale. I know now about local support organisations such as the Helen Bamber Foundation so I will be able to do more able to help other patients who are victims of torture.
Ms Julie Strong
Practice Manager at Brick Lane General Practice
We were short of two doctors the day Mrs Jones came in with Mrs Abilowale and everyone was working extremely hard to keep on top of things. We are a busy surgery and have a strict policy for registering new patients.
I spoke to Dr Talbot about it afterwards. Together we looked up the new regulations for registering patients and I found out that, in England, everyone is entitled to access medical care even without evidence of identity or immigration status, or proof of address.
I was ashamed of the way I had acted towards Mrs Abilowale that day. I set up a training session for the reception staff on the NHS England regulations for registering new patients. We have produced a new welcome pack for patients from overseas to help them negotiate the local health services.