‘The consequences can be potentially disastrous’: East Ham MP quizzes Barts Health NHS Trust over charging pregnant women for care
PUBLISHED: 12:00 09 April 2020
A hospital trust has been warned that the consequences of charging pregnant women for maternity care could be “disastrous”.
East Ham MP Stephen Timms has written to Barts Health NHS Trust which has faced criticism for charging 739 women when 290 of them were actually entitled to free care. The government requires NHS trusts charge patients who do not have leave to remain in the UK.
Mr Timms, in a letter to Barts chief executive Alwen Williams, wrote: “[T]he prospect of a thumping bill will certainly discourage people from receiving treatment! The consequences can be potentially disastrous.”
The Labour MP also describes the impact on a family with a “modest” income after receiving a £10,000 bill as “devastating”.
Of the 739 women billed in 2018-19, 456 received care at Newham University Hospital. However, it later emerged that 290 of them should not have been charged.
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The figures were revealed after campaigners from Newham Save our NHS asked board chiefs at Barts for the totals. Mr Timms notes in the letter that in many of the cases he sees, the Home Office appears “mistaken” in denying leave to remain.
He goes on to ask Ms Williams how confident she is that the women whose invoices were not cancelled should pay; what circumstances led to the bills being issued incorrectly and how Barts discovered some expectant mums were not liable to pay.
A Barts Health NHS Trust spokeswoman said it would answer his questions “as soon as we can”.
Under national regulations, patients must be “ordinarily resident” to qualify for free NHS care.
Barts has a legal duty to recover costs from patients not entitled to it. However, people who need urgent or immediately necessary care – such as maternity care - will always be treated promptly even if a patient indicates they cannot afford to pay. The trust has taken steps to ensure its hospitals are consistent, clear and equitable in applying eligibility rules.
Rosamund Mykura, from Newham Save our NHS, said: “At this time of public health emergency, the country needs an immediate end to legislation enforcing eligibility checks and charging in the NHS, allowing all patients to use the NHS without fear.”
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