The Independent reports that the NHS has pursued patients who have lost babies for bills of up to £2,600. A report by Doctors of the World, a charitable clinic in London, has revealed that vulnerable and destitute women were charged thousands of pounds by the NHS for essential care during pregnancy. Nearly a third of women in the report were billed for their maternity care, one as much as £6,000. Migrants also reported fearing high fees, arrest and deportation if they tried to access care, according to the report.
The NHS categorises maternity care as immediately necessary treatment, which cannot be denied on any grounds. But multiple mothers-to-be reported that they had tried to register with a GP and were turned away for lack of identification. The NHS does not require specific documents to register with a GP, but confusion and arbitrary requirements among healthcare administrators often leads to rejection of services for the most vulnerable applicants.
“A 34-year-old Nigerian migrant, told The Independent that she had been told about the bill hours after the death of her baby. Having attended a London hospital four weeks into her pregnancy, she was told she would be charged for treatment. Concerned she would be unable to pay, she declined further help, until being referred by Doctors of the World to a GP at 20 weeks’ pregnant. The GP later referred her to the same London hospital as an emergency case.
“Her baby was born prematurely and died shortly after. “If I had gotten proper treatment that first time I don’t think I would have lost my baby,” she said. “I was not in the UK to get treatment for free. I needed someone to be there for me and they were not. All they wanted was money.”
“A second woman, who lost her baby at 40 weeks, was charged £2,620 for her treatment. The report covered cases dating from March 2013 to June 2014.
“The Coalition Government has emphasised that the NHS is a “national, not an international, health service”, and has introduced new charges for some overseas visitors and migrants, in order to recoup £500m a year by 2017.
“Undocumented migrants – otherwise known as illegal immigrants – of whom there are estimated to be hundreds of thousands living in the UK, are not entitled to free NHS care save for a few exceptions. They may see a GP for free, and can receive free care if they have been a victim of rape or female genital mutilation.
” According to law, they cannot be denied emergency or maternity services, but hospitals are encouraged to pursue payment after care is given.”