Delegates to UNISON’s women’s conference voted through a vital motion this morning, pledging to fight the NHS fees for pregnant women.
Presenting the motion, Milton Keynes branch secretary Mary Moore explained that the fees are designed as part of the UK’s “hostile environment for migrants”.
For pregnant women, this comes in the form of violent and degrading policies, forcing health workers to act foremost as border control and debt collectors instead of as health providers.
If a woman is pregnant and seeking asylum, or does not have secure immigration status in the UK, they can expect to be charged £7,000 for giving birth. In the event of birth complications arising, the cost can rise to tens of thousands.
Furthermore, under current rules, patients with debts of £500 or more that are outstanding for two months must be reported to the Home Office. This can result in future immigration application refusals or even deportation.
Ms Moore said: “One of the penalties of unpaid debt is deportation. For asylum seekers, this means going back to oppression, war, FGM and torture.
“Even worse: she’ll have to take her new born baby back to that environment with her. I know of women who have sold everything – including themselves – to avoid that fate.”
There is no doubt that women subjected to this treatment experience huge distress, which is exacerbated by previous experiences of trauma and abuse, and the fact that they have moved to the UK to find safety from conflict, violence and trafficking.
Milton Keynes branch secretary Mary Moore.
Janet Maiden of University College Hospital London branch said: “We must fight against this racist policy. I’m not here as an immigration officer, I’m a nurse. I want these women to trust me and trust the service”.
The motion read: “Conference believes that the application of a 50% surcharge and the failure to provide a breakdown of costs or itemised invoices suggests that these are penalty charges designed to create a hostile environment for migrant women”.
“Combined with the fact that it is highly unlikely that the women affected would be able to make the payments, then it becomes clear that this is not abut recouping the cost of treatment but a deliberate choice to den essential medical treatment to vulnerable women”.
Given that the Home Office bans asylum seekers and undocumented migrants from working and earning an income, it is clear that the government deliberately puts pregnant women in a bureaucratic stranglehold.
Research carried out by Maternity Action has found that some hospital trusts are refusing treatment or seeking payment in advance for maternity care charges.
UNISON partner Maternity Action has produced an activist toolkit for campaigning against NHS charges for pregnant women.
The union will soon be supporting regional women’s committees and branch women’s groups to make freedom of information requests to their local NHS trusts on charges and the number of people charged.