Yes – Helen Brealey
Whilst being understandably controversial, and a suggestion that I believe would be very difficult to properly implement, I do believe that it is fair to expect women to provide an identity document when booking in for their labour at an NHS hospital. It should be noted that the NHS is already supposed to charge overseas patients from outside of Europe for the cost of any healthcare that is received, excluding those who have lived in the UK long enough to become eligible for treatment. However, efforts to recover the cost of these bills, for which four out of five patients do not end up paying, have been largely unsuccessful and resulted in a loss of £4.6million from just one London hospital trust last year. It shouldn’t be about money, but in 2016 for the NHS, with a routine, complication-free childbirth costing on average £5,000, it is about precisely that if we want to continue to have access to a high standard of healthcare.
As a student currently spending a year abroad living and working in France, if I walked into a hospital here I would expect to pay heavily, despite a significant percentage of my wages each month being taken in taxes (which everyone in France is obliged to pay regardless of income). The UK is in a very privileged position in that anyone can just turn up at an emergency department and receive an incredible standard of care for free, but sadly that service is being abused, admittedly by a small minority, but with a detrimental effect for the majority if action is not taken.
Maternity is just one department, and in terms of what you can end up in hospital for, pregnancy is normally one of the most prepared for circumstances. We can assume that many women know for at least 5 months that they are expecting. Having a child is often a choice and a planned event, and therefore not something that the rest of the UK should have to cover the cost for. This is not to say that maternity services are becoming inhumane, turning women away in the icy cold to make dangerous journeys for the sake of getting a passport from home, as Jeremy Corbyn suggested in the Commons shortly after the pilot scheme was announced. Equally, I doubt that someone will be waiting by the bed with a card machine, asking women to ‘just pop your pin number in’ between breaths of the gas and air.
The National Health Service, first and foremost, has a responsibility to provide care, and the delivery of this should not be delayed, nor should documentation get in the way of emergency care. It is simply to say that those who cannot provide proof of their right to use the NHS free of charge should expect to pick up the bill for the high quality medical care that they receive. We wouldn’t question it abroad – so why is the NHS expected to do any differently?
No – Elise Middleton
A woman in the throes of labour is arguably in one of the most vulnerable positions she will ever be, at the end of an extremely hazardous nine months. Participating in what could be considered the biological purpose of our existence, the act of creating and giving life, it is common knowledge the amount of pain a woman will be in. Quite literally having to push a person out of them, or undergo life threatening surgery, there are many things that someone giving birth has to concern themselves with once their water breaks. A pregnant woman, however far along, is constantly on the look out for dangers that may befall their own health and that of their unborn baby. Pregnant women do not need any further concerns outside of that of the safety and health of themselves and their children.
The NHS has been a hot topic in British politics for a number of years. Initially created to only help post-war Britain cope, our National Health Service has been invaluable to millions of people, but is struggling under the strain of this nation as a result. A key fighting point of the brutal and often controversial Brexit campaigns, and a sore point with any Leave campaigners, is the NHS. This is, unsurprising, considering the promise of £350 million a month going to the NHS has gone unfulfilled.
While this proposal may pose as something that can be supporting the NHS, Theresa May and her government already have a rocky relationship with the institution, having recently revealed to the health chief that there is no more money going to the NHS, despite it being desperately in need of some support. The Prime Minister instead told the health chief that the NHS should not publicly seek more than the £10bn extra that ministers insist they have already pledged to provide, and that his focus should be on efficiencies to fill the massive £2.45bn hole in its finances – an unhelpful suggestion.
This step to allegedly tacking the issue of ‘health tourism’ has already been branded dangerous and time wasting by the Royal College of Midwives. The possible repercussions of a pregnant woman not being able to provide sufficient proof that they are worthy of healthcare will inevitably include astronomical charges. This would emulate America’s expensive and criticised system, and their details subsequently being shared with the UK border agency could critically endanger pregnant women, and their children, by discouraging them from seeking the help they may need.
The insinuation that migrants are taking up valuable resources within the NHS will only spur on the racist sentiments that have been brewing and causing attacks across the UK since the announcement of Brexit, and the proposed passport checks will only be the first step to providing even more divisions within our society. It is a volatile time for the UK, in the midst of descending into a recession – however short term it may be – and these checks will do more harm than good.
(Image courtesy of Huffington Post UK)