British prime minister Theresa May has defended a plan by a London hospital to enforce passport checks on pregnant women at its hospitals.
The move is part of a response to foreigners accessing free care in the UK, sometimes through elaborate scams described by London’s St George’s University Hospitals Foundation Trust as “organized illegal activity” involving conmen who charge visiting Nigerian women to deliver their babies in NHS hospitals. The service would typically be free to legal UK residents, while non-residents should pay private patient fees, which can run into thousands of dollars.
St George’s describes the situation of “health care given to non-eligible patients” (pdf, page 79) as a “very complex problem” which could cost up to £5 million ($6.1 million) per year if action is not taken. Women seeking to access health care at St George’s will now be asked for photo identification and prove their eligibility to access free health care.
St George’s, which is based south London’s Tooting area, serves a population of 1.3 million in southwest London. In the last ten years, NHS’ expenditure has grown by 55% to £117 million ($143 million).
Defending the plan, Theresa May told MPs “it’s right that we should say that we ensure when we’re providing health services to people—free at the point of delivery—that they are eligible to have those services; that where there are people who come to this country to use our health service and should be paying for it, that the health service actually identifies these people and makes sure it gets the money from them.”
But the plan has been criticized. Describing it as “dangerous” (paywall), midwives say it could deter women from getting treatment, thus resulting in health complications.
May’s government has been accused of engendering a toxic and increasingly xenophobic environment since the country voted in a referendum this June to leave the European Union. There have been reports of increases in xenophobic attacks on foreigners, particularly eastern Europeans.