What exactly will it take for Western governments to realise that the profit motive is the worst argument for outsourcing essential human services?
Separate investigations into three deaths in immigration removal centres (IRC) in the past month have been launched by the police, amid growing concern about the treatment of detainees.
The spate of deaths has caused alarm among critics of the government’s detention policy, who warn that the system is at “breaking point” with poor healthcare putting people’s lives at risk.
Two men died from suspected heart attacks at Colnbrook near Heathrow airport and the third killed himself at the Campsfield House detention centre in Oxfordshire on Tuesday.
John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, who has two detention centres including Colnbrook in his constituency, said he feared there would be more deaths as the system struggled to cope with the number of people being detained.
“The government is now detaining people on such a scale that the existing services are swamped,” he said. “It is inevitable if we put the services under such relentless strain that there will be more deaths as a result … we are dealing with people who are extremely stressed and extremely vulnerable and the services are not able to cope and not able to guarantee their safety.”
The first man who died was Muhammad Shukat, 47, a Pakistani immigration detainee who collapsed at around 6am on 2 July. His roommate Abdul Khan says that in the hours before he died Shukat was groaning in agony, had very bad chest pains and was sweating profusely.
Khan, 19, from Afghanistan, said he began raising the alarm around 6am and pressed the emergency button in the room 10 times in a frantic effort to get help.
Khan claimed that on three occasions members of the centre’s nursing team entered the room and found Shukat on the floor where he had collapsed. Khan said they put him back into bed, took his temperature and some medicine was administered, but did not call emergency assistance immediately. According to Khan, the nurses initially said that Shukat could go to see the centre’s doctor at 8am.
According to the London Ambulance Service, Colnbrook staff called an ambulance just before 7.20am. Attempts were made to resuscitate Shukat, but he was pronounced dead on arrival at Hillingdon Hospital.
A postmortem found the provisional cause of death to be coronary heart disease. Shukat’s body has been returned to Pakistan and his family are understood to have no concerns about the medical treatment he received.
The second man to die at Colnbrook has not yet been named. According to the Metropolitan police he was 35 and was found dead in his cell at 10.30am last Sunday. London Ambulance Service officials pronounced him dead at the scene.
“A postmortem held on 1 August found the cause of death to be a ruptured aorta. The death is being treated as unexplained,” said a police spokesman.
Colnbrook IRC is managed by Serco. In a statement to detainees about Shukat’s death, deputy director at Colnbrook, Jenni Halliday, described her “deep regret” and extended her condolences.
In a statement to detainees about the second Colnbrook death, Serco’s contract manager, Michael Guy, informed detainees that a resident in the short-term holding facility had died and that the death was thought to be from natural causes.