Stop charging destitute migrant women and their children for NHS care

by Maternity Action

Stop charging destitute migrant women and their children for NHS care

by Maternity Action
Maternity Action
Case Owner
We are a national charity established in 2008. We conduct research, campaigning and provide legal advice on maternity and employment rights and benefits, and on access to NHS maternity care.
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Maternity Action
Case Owner
We are a national charity established in 2008. We conduct research, campaigning and provide legal advice on maternity and employment rights and benefits, and on access to NHS maternity care.
Pledge now

This case is raising funds for its stretch target. Your pledge will be collected within the next 24-48 hours (and it only takes two minutes to pledge!)

The Hostile Environment embeds the mechanisms of immigration enforcement into the framework of the NHS. People who cannot show that they have the correct immigration status are faced with huge bills of 150% of the cost of treatment for vital care and fear that hospitals will inform the Home Office about them. Almost all treatment is chargeable, including life-saving treatment for cancer and mental health services. Even maternity care including giving birth is chargeable.

These laws and policies are penalising some of the most vulnerable people in our society, especially women who are destitute, survivors of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), domestic violence and sexual violence and their children. The charging measures are forcing health workers to act as border guards.

The Government says charging stops ‘health tourism’ but this argument doesn’t work because the people worst affected are not health tourists. They are vulnerable people who have been living in the UK for years. They face barriers to the healthcare they need while they are waiting for their immigration case to be resolved - even after they have paid into the NHS via the immigration health surcharge or obtained a waiver.

NHS treatment can be a matter of life or death. We know of women who have avoided maternity services altogether or missed important scans during their pregnancy, at considerable risk to themselves and their babies. 

We know that people have missed important appointments and tests which are needed to determine the course of treatment and prevent their health from deteriorating. We also know of children who have been prevented from accessing treatments they need which can have a fundamental lasting impact on their development.

The Government says that charging saves the NHS money. It doesn’t. Denying vulnerable people treatment now will only risk them deteriorating and ultimately costing the NHS more when they reach a crisis point. The Government knows this; this is why it has exempted destitute asylum seekers and refugees from being charged.

We are not the only ones who are concerned.

Doctors, midwives and nurses alike are speaking out about this. The Royal Colleges of Physicians, Paediatrics and Child Health, Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and Midwives have all voiced strong objections to NHS charging and its impact on vulnerable patients. The British Medical Association and its members recently voted in support of abolishing these hostile charging measures.

What are we doing?

We have issued a Judicial Review application to challenge the charging measures. The Secretary of State for Health has not conducted a full review of the impact of NHS charging on vulnerable groups. We argue that the charges are discriminatory, disproportionately affect women and children, and are unfair and unjustified and that an urgent and full review needs to be undertaken

We want the Secretary of State for Health to stop charging:

- Destitute Families (who are mostly lone mothers with children) who are waiting for a decision from the Home Office on their immigration application. 

- Pregnant women and women with new born babies for accessing maternity care.

- Victims of FGM, domestic and sexual violence for accessing NHS treatment.

We have already tried to engage the Secretary of State for Health to do this. We have written to him. We have spoken to civil servants in his department. The Secretary of State for Health has refused to agree to our requests. He has also refused our call for a full review of the charging measures and their impact on vulnerable groups. This is even after the Parliamentary Health and Social Care Committee called on him to do so.

How much we are raising and why?

It is likely that the Government will fight this case very hard. We are at risk of having to pay the Government’s legal costs if we lose the case.

We are a small charity with limited resources. We would struggle to afford the Government’s legal costs and continue with the case because it will risk depleting our limited resources which we need to help the many women who come to us for help.

To offer some protection, we are seeking your help to raise a minimum of £10,000 
to protect us in the event we have to pay the Government’s costs (and for court and admin fees). We will pledge this money and ask the Court to cap how much the Government can recover from us.

We already have the support of some phenomenal lawyers in Janet Farrell (Bhatt Murphy Solicitors), Jason Coppel QC (11 KBW) and Shu Shin Luh and Laura Profumo (Garden Court Chambers). All of them who are willing to work ‘at risk’ (that means we don’t have to pay them, but if we win, they will claim their fees from the Government).

Your support will allow us and our legal team to focus all our energies into pushing the Government to answer for the devastating impact of this harmful charging regime in Court.

Please help us to hold them to account!

If our challenge succeeds and we do not require the funds for the case, the money raised will go towards our campaign for free, safe and quality NHS maternity care for all mothers in the UK.

Who are we?

We are a national charity established in 2008. For 10 years we have been doing research, campaigning and lobbying for the fair treatment of pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace, in the benefits systems and in the healthcare system, irrespective of their immigration status.

Our lawyers provide free legal advice to individual women facing charges for NHS maternity care and for women facing discrimination at work and resolving benefits claims. We regularly give evidence to Government consultations and Parliamentary Inquiries. We were one of the Department of Health and Social Care’s ‘Vulnerable groups’ stakeholders on their charging programme.

Our ongoing All Mothers campaign calls for the immediate suspension of NHS maternity care charges for migrant women until a thorough, independent review can assess the impact of NHS charging policy. This campaign was developed from research we conducted on migrant women’s experiences of NHS charging over the last three years, published as What Price Safe Motherhood? and Duty of care.

We work closely with other organisations working on barriers to care for the wider migrant population.

We believe that all mothers in the UK must have access to free, safe and quality maternity care regardless of their immigration status.

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