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Stop charging migrant women for NHS maternity care, RCOG urges

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The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has called for the immediate suspension of charging for NHS maternity care for migrant women because members say this government policy is harming the health of pregnant women and their babies.  It is the first time the health professionals’ body has issued a position statement on this issue.

The charity Maternity Action and the Royal College of Midwives have long expressed concern about the impact of NHS charging on this group of women. Charging forms a key plank of the Home Office’s hostile environment for migrants.

The government says the charging policy is in place to deter health tourism but medics treating migrant pregnant women say there is little evidence that previously free NHS maternity care for all attracted health tourists.

According to the 2019 MBRRACE-UK confidential inquiry into maternal deaths, three women were found to have died between 2015 and 2017 who may have been reluctant to access maternity care due to fears about charging and impact on their immigration status.

Dr Brenda Kelly, an NHS consultant obstetrician working in Oxford, treats many pregnant migrant women. She is calling for the barriers to them accessing maternity care to be removed urgently.

She described the case of one migrant woman who arrived in A&E shortly before delivering a stillborn baby. The woman had been fearful of coming forward for antenatal care although she was suffering from multiple, pregnancy-related health problems.

“I hope I never have to hear cries like that woman’s cries ever again,” said Kelly. “The way to safeguard these women is to build up trust. If they are landed with a bill of several thousand pounds they will disengage. They are not health tourists, they are desperate. The commitment to maternal health equity means ending charges for maternity care. The time for action is now.”

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Source: The Guardian, 27 March 2022

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