Asylum agency risking people’s health by buying cheapest possible care: report

In 2016, healthcare companies warned the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) that it was risking people’s health by going for the lowest bid when tendering for healthcare for asylum seekers, Trouw, Investico, and De Groene Amsterdammer reported. In 2021, when the number of asylum applications increased seriously for the first time since 2016, care for asylum seekers started falling short, to the point that Doctors Without Borders had to intervene last year.

Arts en Zorg, the healthcare group that got the tender six years ago, set up the company Healthcare Asylum Seekers (GZA) for this purpose. It has been unable to provide medical care to all asylum seekers since last year. GZA care providers are no longer physically present at an increasing number of locations, Trouw reports based on figures from the company. Residents of those asylum shelters have to make do with a phone consultation, or someone has to take them to a different shelter where a doctor is present.

To fill the gaps left by the GZA, the COA has had to hire two secondment companies, Just4Care and Arts en Specialist, to provide extra GPs, nurses, and assistants at emergency asylum shelters. In many cases, they only offer basic medical care at exorbitant prices. People involved told Trouw that the COA pays up to 245 euros per hour for a GP through Just4Care – over twice as much as GPs typically earn in the evenings and weekends. An email confirmed the rate.

Dozens of doctors, nurses, and other people directly involved expressed concerns to Trouw about the quality of the medical care that asylum seekers receive, especially in the temporary emergency shelters. They talk about chaotic conditions and a lack of basic necessities for decent care. New locations often don’t have instructions, medical records, and other basic requirements. They also have concerns about the level of education and experience of deployed nurses and doctor’s assistants.

According to the newspaper’s sources, Arts en Zorg won the bid at such a low price that the COA conducted an extra investigation. The COA confirmed this additional study but would not tell Trouw anything about the content. The agency only said that it showed Arts en Zorg “can execute the offer correctly.”

The COA also said that “contract parties” are responsible for organizing healthcare at the asylum shelters and for the healthcare staff. The agency pointed out that it is self-financed based on the number of asylum seekers staying in its shelters, and that was, therefore, the starting point for funding healthcare.

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