Access to health care for undocumented migrant children and pregnant women confronts human rights and professional values with political and institutional regulations that limit services. In order to understand how health care professionals deal with these diverging mandates, we assessed their attitudes toward providing care to this population. Clinicians, administrators, and support staff (n = 1,048) in hospitals and primary care centers of a large multiethnic city responded to an online survey about attitudes toward access to health care services. Analysis examined the role of personal and institutional correlates of these attitudes. Foreign-born respondents and those in primary care centers were more likely to assess the present access to care as a serious problem, and to endorse broad or full access to services, primarily based on human rights reasons. Clinicians were more likely than support staff to endorse full or broad access to health care services. Respondents who approved of restricted or no access also endorsed health as a basic human right (61.1%) and child development as a priority (68.6%). A wide gap separates attitudes toward entitlement to health care and the endorsement of principles stemming from human rights and the best interest of the child. Case-based discussions with professionals facing value dilemmas and training on children's rights are needed to promote equitable practices and advocacy against regulations limiting services.
Migration flux is being transformed by globalization, and the number of people with either undocumented or with a precarious status is growing in Canada. There are no epidemiological data on the health and social consequences of this situation, but clinicians working in primary care with migrants and refugees are increasingly worried about the associated morbidity. This commentary summarizes findings from a pilot study with health professionals in the Montreal area and suggests that the uninsured population predicament is a national problem. Although ethical and legal issues associated with data collection by clinicians, institutions and governments need to be examined, estimating the public health consequences and long-term cost associated with problems in access to health care due to migratory status should be a priority. Current regulations and administrative policies appear to be at odds with the principles of equal rights set out by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Beyond the commitment of individual clinicians, Canadian medical associations should take an advocacy role and scrutinize the ethical and medical implications of the present system.