Simba Mujakachi, a personal trainer, was just 29 years old in June 2019 when he suffered a catastrophic stroke that left him comatose. When he awoke, he was paralysed on his left side and unable to talk or eat.
His stroke could have been prevented by relatively inexpensive medication for a blood clotting condition that, as an asylum seeker, he was not entitled to on the NHS.
Now Mujakachi, who has lived in Sheffield since he was a child, owes nearly £100,000 for the emergency treatment that saved his life, a staggering sum which he does not know how he will ever repay.
“No one can pay £100,000, who has got that? I’m looking at the bill and I’m thinking, that’s a house,” he said.
Mujakachi’s case has received a great deal of support in Sheffield and across the UK. The Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam, Olivia Blake, has spoken in parliament on his behalf and a petition created by his partner, Melissa Smith, calls for the cancellation of his debt and has attracted 75,000 signatures.
The petition will be presented to Sheffield’s Royal Hallamshire hospital during a protest on Saturday that calls for an end to the charging of migrants for NHS treatment, part of a range of “hostile environment” policies rolled out between 2014 and 2017 that aimed to restrict access to public services and make life in the UK more difficult for undocumented immigrants.
Campaigners say charging – which trusts are able to do at 150% of the cost of treatment – purposefully deters some of the most vulnerable in society from getting medical help.
This was certainly true for Mujakachi, who before his stroke had stopped taking medication and attending medical appointments because he believed an NHS debt of more than £500 would cause his asylum claim, which began in 2009, to be rejected.
The Home Office said though outstanding debt to the NHS is a factor in whether to grant immigration applications generally, it does not apply to people with an asylum claim or appeal in process.
However, between appeals, he was charged for treatment and was asked to pay money up front, which he did not have and which he feels was a “deliberate act” that was “calculated” to deter him from using the NHS.
He said: “It all started when they gave me a £6,000 bill, which was for prescriptions and stuff. I didn’t even understand it myself – £6,000 was already too much.
“The only way I would be able to pay it back was to stop going to the appointments. I had no choice.
“If they’d have just let me go through the normal channels of taking my medication, they wouldn’t have had to save my life.”
Mujakachi’s asylum appeals were eventually rejected, though he was not told whether this was due to the outstanding debt. He is now a “refused asylum seeker”, at risk of being deported to Zimbabwe, where he was born and where his father, Victor, is wanted by the government for speaking out against Robert Mugabe.
Mujakachi cannot make a further appeal unless he can supply new evidence to support his claim that he is in danger if sent to Zimbabwe. But he said gathering new evidence was virtually impossible as he had not lived there for nearly 20 years.
He said he felt as if he has spent his adult life in an open prison. “My only crime was to ask for safety, for asylum,” he said.
“It’s about 4,240-something days I’ve lost due to this. Plus, I’m now disabled. The system is set up to be so cruel and, as a result, I’m a casualty.”
Though he has now recovered enough to hold conversations and walk short distances with a stick, because of his immigration status he is not allowed to work and not entitled to disability support.
His partner, an English language and literature student, has been supporting him. He had a keen interest in politics at A-level and would like to work in that field, though it will not be easy.
“Even if I was able to work now, I think I’d find it very challenging because I do need serious help on day-to-day activities,” he added.
A spokesperson for Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS foundation trust said the trust was “sympathetic” but had “no choice but to adhere to national legislation on charging for care when the patient is not eligible for free NHS care”.
They added: “At this point in time we simply do not have the authority to go outside the legislation.”
The Department of Heath and Social Care and NHS England did not respond to requests for comment.