Are any two experiences so sure to plumb the deaths of misery and horror as childbirth and international aviation? Granted, you're less likely to shit yourself in an airport (probably). But whether it's a 5 AM line for passport control or a ten-pound baby erupting from your vagina, there's one thing we can be certain of: Childbirth, and airports, are hell.
Like two Hollywood franchises joining forces to make the ultimate horror film, enterprising healthcare bosses have unveiled plans to make pregnancy infinitely more miserable: By treating hospitals like airports.
Health authorities in the UK are working on proposals that would require pregnant women to present their passports at hospitals before giving birth. The plans, first reported in Health Service Journal, could deny vital maternity care to women unable to show proof of their eligibility for free healthcare.
While the plans may not appear remarkable to American readers, free care at the point of access is the ideological lodestone of the NHS. Making sick patients or pregnant women show their passports or ID documents would be considered anathema to many.
Under the new plans, pregnant women would need to photo identification or proof of right to remain in the UK before booking in for their labor, the Telegraph reports. A incoming pilot scheme run by a south London hospital trust would require all women—regardless of whether they are British citizens—to prove they were eligible for treatment before accessing state maternity services. Women who are already in labor, or have other emergency care needs, will not need to provide documentation.
Under existing law, visitors to the UK are expected to contribute towards the costs of their treatment (unless they're admitted to an emergency room, or a victim of torture, FGM, and domestic or sexual violence). In practice, many don't pay towards their treatment. Figures show that the NHS spends £182 million annually providing foreign visitors and temporary migrants with maternity care. However, the fear is that the proposals would discourage those in need from accessing crucial health services, ultimately endangering women's health.
St George's Hospital Trust, which is piloting the initiative, tell Broadly over email that the scheme is a necessary response to so-called "health tourism." The trust believes that visitors from West African countries like Nigeria are using NHS services (in 2013, Nigerians spent £1 billion on foreign medical trips).
"We treat a high number of patients from overseas who are not eligible for NHS treatment," explains a hospital trust spokesperson. "Our priority at all times is to provide care and treatment to patients requiring our services. However, we also have a duty to ensure we use our resources wisely. The guidelines state that hospitals should endeavor to check patients for their eligibility when accessing non-emergency NHS treatment. We are not doing this effectively enough at present, and are looking at ways in which we can improve this."
In comments to Broadly, a Department of Health spokesperson was supportive of the new initiative. "We welcome St George's pilot to test new processes to recoup costs from overseas patients and look forward to the results."
Until then, if you're a south London resident of childbearing age, it might be time to renew your passport.