18 May 2006 - A young mother fell ill and died on a visit to Britain - an innocent victim of the hysteria over so-called health tourism.Mother consigned to certain death by harsh new rules
By Maxine Frith, Social Affairs Correspondent The Independent 18 May 2006
When Ese Elizabeth Alabi fell ill while on a trip to Britain and was told she urgently needed a heart transplant, she comforted herself with the knowledge that she was in a democratic country with an excellent healthcare system.
Instead, she was consigned to a certain death by draconian new rules brought in to quell the hysteria over so-called health tourism and immigration.
Ms Alabi was denied the chance of a heart transplant simply on the grounds of her nationality and died in hospital on Monday night at the age of 29, leaving three-month-old twin boys and a two-year-old son. Desperate attempts to get a High Court judge to overturn the rules were delayed as Ms Alabi was forced to fight a deportation battle even as she lay dying in hospital.
Her partner, Abiodun Abe, attacked the restrictions that relegated his partner to a lower priority than less sick patients. He said: "I am so angry. I love Britain and I thought it was a fair place but my wife has died because of these laws.
"Ese was devoted to God and was a good person. She always had faith that the judge would be good to her and that she would get a heart but it didn't happen."
Ms Alabi's case offers a graphic illustration of the other side of Britain's immigration debate, fuelled this week by the Home Office's admission that it has no idea of the number of illegal immigrants in the country. The Government's new rules, brought in last year in an effort to quell fears of foreigners coming to Britain to take advantage of the NHS meant that Ese was effectively denied any chance to live.
A last-ditch bid was launched last week to persuade the High Court to overturn that decision but Ese's condition deteriorated before a judge could rule.
Richard Stein, a solicitor with the law firm Leigh Day and Co, who represented Ms Alabi, said: "I accept that there is a shortage of organs and that there was no guarantee that Ese would have got one, but she should not have been denied the chance because of the country she came from.
"After all, organs transplants are not decided on the basis of the colour of a person's skin.
"She was not a health tourist - she simply had the misfortune to fall ill here." He added: "I accept that we have to have rules to stop people from taking advantage of the NHS but they should not discriminate against people with genuine need because of this obsession about immigration.
"I think it is appalling that a civilised country like Britain treats someone like that.
"Her death was unnecessary."
Ese lived in Nigeria with her two-year-old son from a previous relationship and met Mr Abe when he returned for a visit there.
He has indefinite leave to remain in Britain and until recently worked for the Post Office.
As their relationship flourished, Ese made regular visits to Mr Abe at his home in Grays, Essex, but never overstayed her six-month tourist visas.
She travelled to Britain in September last year while pregnant with twins by Mr Abe and intended to return to her family in Nigeria to have the babies, but began feeling ill and breathless and was told she could not fly home. The twin boys, Jamal and Jazar, were born on 13 February but Ese's condition continued to worsen and she was taken to hospital in March.
She was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, which causes the heart to become enlarged, and was told her only hope was a transplant.
But she was then told that the new rules meant that while British, EU citizens and people from some other countries were put on a priority "group one" list for donor hearts, she would only put on a lower, group two list. With about 100 people on the group one list at any time and a shortage of organs, it meant she had no chance of receiving the heart she needed.
Lawyers went to the High Court asking for a judicial review of the rules but then had to fight on a second front after it emerged that Ese's illness meant she had overstayed her visa, which expired on March.
The judge adjourned the case for inquiries to take place about Ese's application for exceptional leave to remain, but by last Friday she had become so ill that doctors said she would not withstand a transplant even if a heart became available and she was at the top of the list.
Mr Abe said: "She was a very strong person and she tried to hold on. I took the babies to see her on Monday night and she gave them a kiss and touched them. I took them home and as I was taking them upstairs to bed the phone rang to say she was dead."
He now wants Ese to be buried in Britain so that the sons who never knew her will at least have her grave to visit.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "This is a tragic case, and we wish to express sympathy for Ms A and her family. It has involved an extremely sad and difficult process.
"Whilst no person is wholly excluded from receiving an organ, priority is given to those who are entitled to NHS treatment. We believe this to be a lawful, fair and reasonable way of allocating organs, and it is clearly supported by those who work in the field."
Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 August 2007 02:09