Maternity Action has lost its legal challenge to the scheme of charging destitute migrant women for NHS maternity care. Following an oral hearing on 1 July, the High Court denied the charity permission to proceed with a judicial review.
It is considering whether to appeal. The case was brought by Maternity Action on behalf of a woman who was charged more than £10,000 for vital maternity care.
Charging migrants for maternity care deters, delays, or denies access to healthcare for pregnant migrants, those giving birth, or those who need postnatal treatment. This is particularly dangerous as many migrants are more likely to be poor, isolated or marginalised and are already at greater risk of poor maternal health outcomes, including death, and premature birth.
Ros Bragg, Director of Maternity Action, has said:
“For more than ten years, we have been asking the Government to stop putting the health of destitute pregnant women at risk by charging them for essential NHS care, and we will not stop campaigning on this. We know from our research that charging deters vulnerable women from attending for maternity care, putting the lives of women and their babies at risk. These are women who struggle to afford food and shelter. They are in no position to pay for healthcare.
“The pandemic creates new dangers for pregnant women, and particularly for BAME women who are at greater risk of hospitalisation and death. It is of enormous concern to us that the Government is still resisting our calls for suspension of maternity charging.
“The confidential inquiry into maternal deaths, released last year, found that three women who died were affected by NHS charging. We know from our advice service that there are women with high risk pregnancies who are avoiding maternity care out of fear of incurring a debt they cannot pay.
“The Government claims that it is conducting and internal review of the impact of charging on pregnant women, however this only came to light in the week before the court hearing. Whether the Government is genuinely committed to explore this question remains to be seen...
“The Royal College of Midwives reports the NHS charging regulations are also having a profoundly negative impact on midwives, who report that charging has hindered their ability to form good relationships with vulnerable women.
“Midwives and other health care workers also report feeling stressed and anxious when having to apply the regulations which are complex and often misapplied."