Charity argues NHS charging regulations disproportionately impact pregnant women and Government is in breach of the Public Sector Equality Duty
Maternity Action launches legal action over NHS charges for maternity care for destitute migrant women
15 October 2019
Maternity Action announced yesterday that it had launched a legal challenge over the Government's NHS charging regime and its policy of charging destitute migrant pregnant women to access maternity care.
Rosalind Bragg, Maternity Action's Director, explained: "We are challenging the practice of issuing bills of £7,000 or more to destitute pregnant women, deterring them from attending essential health care appointments. We are arguing for the Government to undertake the long overdue review of the impact of charging on equalities groups and we are calling for a widening of the current exemptions. The challenge is broadly framed and has the potential to benefit a wide group of migrants, including those in receipt of local authority support."
Bragg continued: "In our legal challenge, we are arguing that the Government is in breach of the Public Sector Equality Duty as there is evidence that charging disproportionately impacts on equality groups, including pregnant women. If successful, the courts will make a declaration that the Government is in breach of this duty and require the Government to undertake a full inquiry into the equalities implications of the charging regulations."
Maternity Action says the Government should be taking extra steps to ensure vulnerable and destitute migrant women receive the care they need rather than frightening them away from maternity services.
"These women are at high risk of serious health problems during pregnancy, birth and postnatally," Rosalind Bragg warned.
Maternity Action's legal team consists of Janet Farrell of Bhatt Murphy, Jason Coppel QC of 11KBW, and Shu Shin Luh and Laura Profumo of Garden Court Chambers.
Janet Farrell said: "Charging destitute migrant women and their children for their NHS care is harmful and unjustified. This important case challenges the legality of the Government's charging regime, which discriminates against women. Women are charged more than men and they qualify for fewer exemptions. Pregnant women and their babies are at particular risk- the evidence collated by Maternity Action in this case shows a clear pattern of women avoiding care because of charges. Immigration control has no place in a consulting room. The Government must carry out a proper, transparent review of the impact of this regime upon vulnerable groups."
Bhatt Murphy says the disproportionate effect of charging is most stark amongst destitute pregnant women, new mothers, survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence and Female Genital Mutilation and destitute migrant families supported by local authorities, who are overwhelmingly women.
Maternity Action is crowdfunding for its legal challenge through CrowdJustice.