Health

Passport checks considered for pregnant NHS patients

pregnant woman Image copyright SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Pregnant patients could have to prove they are eligible for free NHS treatment by showing ID such as a valid passport, under plans being considered by one London hospital.

St George's says the checks would help tackle health tourism and would only be for non-urgent patients - emergency cases would get automatic care.

It says such a move is in line with what guidelines recommend.

But critics say the checks could be potentially dangerous.

St George's says it has a duty to use resources wisely, as well as provide care and treatment to patients requiring the hospital's services. The hospital has a high number of patients from overseas who are not eligible for NHS treatment.

The government said a pilot was a good idea and it would be keen to see the results.

Crackdown

The trust's board papers from October make clear that "if no action is taken, from December 2016 the cost of health care given to non-eligible patients could be £4m-£5m per annum".

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Media captionTory MP Andrew Bridgen and Elizabeth Prochaska, from Birthrights, debated the plans on The World At One

Currently, antenatal ward staff ask patients to fill in forms with proof of eligibility, including passport details or other ID, when they book in for care. But some patients leave these parts of the form blank.

The hospital says it wants to tighten up its checks.

A spokesman for St George's University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: "Like many London Trusts, we treat a high number of patients from overseas who are not eligible for NHS treatment.

"The guidelines state that hospitals should endeavour to check patients for their eligibility when accessing non-emergency NHS treatment. We are not doing this effectively enough at present, and are looking at ways in which we can improve this."

Others are not convinced.

Cathy Warwick of the Royal College of Midwives said: "I would ask the trust to clarify their policy and to give assurances that all pregnant women who need care will receive it, no matter what their immigration status.

"To be clear, the law says, and government policy states, that trusts must offer care to women in labour, irrespective of their immigration status in the country."

She said the move could be dangerous because "it could deter women from seeking care in a timely fashion. This could potentially have a serious impact on the health of the mother and their baby and the outcome of the pregnancy."

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "NHS Trusts and Foundation Trusts in England are legally obliged to check whether patients are eligible for non-emergency NHS treatment free at the point of use, and recover costs from the overseas patients who are not normally resident in the UK where charges apply. We welcome St George's pilot to test new processes to recoup costs from overseas patients and look forward to the results."

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