NHS charges for migrants are dangerous and ineffective say Bristol medics and midwives.

On Saturday 9th March, 2019, at 1200 a demonstration, No Borders in Maternity Care, will gather at St Michael’s maternity hospital and march to Bristol Royal Infirmary arriving at 1230.  Jessica Wheeler, a Research Associate at University of Bristol and part of the new Patients Not Passports group explained;

“As part of the “hostile environment”, women are being sent bills from £5000 to £10000 for having a baby. Fear of unpayable debts is deterring women from seeking maternity care, which is unsafe for mothers and babies. (1) We are midwives, doctors, migrants, and others coming together as part of Bristol’s Patients Not Passports group. We do not blame our local hospitals, but the whole charging regime (2).  We are part of a national campaign calling for upfront charging and ID checks in the NHS to be scrapped.”(3)

Maternity care is always considered “immediately necessary” and so cannot be denied, but as a chargeable NHS community service, new mothers are being chased for payment, even in cases where they are not legally permitted to work or are destitute. (4)

Immigration checks have to be carried out by already stretched frontline medical staff and healthcare workers. Sharon a midwife in Bristol said, “I feel deeply uncomfortable asking questions about women’s immigration status. I believe healthcare is a universal human right and should be accessible for all.”

Patients face discrimination and racial profiling, and people have been inaccurately billed for treatment, causing untold harm and distress. (5) Alice Cutler, who works at Bristol Refugee Rights and has written on this issue (6) gave one local example; “A woman who was seeking asylum came to us when unable to feed her family. She had borrowed a large amount of money from a loan shark to pay a bill for her maternity care. We helped her to establish that she had been incorrectly billed. It is unclear how many other women are in similar situations but I urge anyone with an NHS healthcare bill to seek specialist advice.”

Local Doctor, Helen Leveret, said, “I have joined Patients not Passports to amplify the calls of the professional bodies the Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the Faculty of Public Health, in calling for the suspension of upfront charging pending a full review of their impact on individual and public health.” (7)

Ugo Hayter from solicitors Deighton PierceGlynn said, “These demands are well-founded, as increasing testimony and legal scrutiny reveals – since their implementation, the courts have now found multiple hostile environment policies to be harmful and in breach of human rights.”(8)

ENDS

 

Notes for Editors

(1)    Maternity Action, What Price Safe Motherhood: https://www.maternityaction.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/WhatPriceSafeMotherhoodFINAL.October.pdf

(2)    The NHS (Charges to Overseas Visitors) (Amendments) Regulations 2017 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2017/756/contents/made

(3)    Docs Not Cops is a campaign group of NHS professionals and patients who believe health is a right and not a privilege. http://www.docsnotcops.co.uk/about/

(4)    Four-month-old baby sent letter saying his mum was ‘likely to be detained’ after she couldn’t pay £6,000 for giving birth to him https://inews.co.uk/news/health/nhs-migrant-charges

(5)    Doctors of the World consultation response, p3: https://www.doctorsoftheworld.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/import-from-old-site/files/DoTW_Response_to_DH_formal_review.pdf

(6) Article with local examples by Alice Cutler https://thebristolcable.org/2018/08/the-government-trying-to-turn-nhs-staff-into-border-guards-hostile-environment-immigration/

(7) https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/ournhs/doctors-condemn-nhs-migrant-charging-that-hits-women-hardest/

(8)

Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, “We Won! A key plank of Theresa May’s Hostile Environment immigration policy has been declared unlawful in a damning ruling…at the High Court today” March, 2019 https://www.jcwi.org.uk/righttorentwon

NHS will no longer have to share immigrants’ data with Home Office https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/may/09/government-to-stop-forcing-nhs-to-share-patients-data-with-home-office

Liberty ‘Legal victory against government’s hostile environment’, November 2018; https://www.libertyhumanrights.org.uk/news/press-releases-and-statements/legal-victory-against-government%E2%80%99s-hostile-environment

Public Accounts Parliamentary Select Committee, “Windrush: Home Office failed in duty to protect people’s rights”, March, 2019 https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-accounts-committee/news-parliament-2017/report-published-windrush-and-home-office-17-19/

Government defeated over legal aid residence test – https://publiclawproject.org.uk/latest/press-release-plp-wins-residence-test-case-proposals-to-introduce-legal-aid-residence-test-are-unlawful-and-discriminatory/

 

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