Heavily pregnant British woman stressed after being challenged by Cambridgeshire hospital over citizenship

Emma, pictured with her husband, says she received the proof of residence letter out of the blue (Emma Szewczak-Harris)

An expectant mother is concerned her hospital is causing stress to pregnant women by sending them requests for proof of residence in Britain.

An expectant mother is concerned her hospital is causing stress to pregnant women by sending them requests for proof of residence in Britain. Emma Szewczak-Harris, 26, who lives in Cambridgeshire, is a British citizen who in the last year decided to hyphenate her surname to include her Polish husband’s last name.

She believes that is the reason she received a letter from Addenbrooke’s Hospital saying she failed to provide proof of identification and residence despite the fact she had never previously been asked to do so.

However, the hospital trust said all non-emergency maternity patients have received letters as part of a pilot scheme, which aims to allow the trust to better monitor and collect payment from overseas patients who are not eligible for free NHS treatment.

A campaign group says the letters from Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust show there is “deliberate cruelty” in the Government.

Ms Szewczak-Harris is eight-and-a-half months pregnant with her first child and said the letter, which came out of the blue, caused her stress. “I feel the tone of [the letter] is inappropriate at this time. I’m pregnant, it’s not the kind of letter I should be receiving now. It doesn’t make me feel very supported. It makes me feel like there is a suspicion being levelled at me. I just want to go and have my baby with a clear head, not worrying whether I should or shouldn’t be using the services,” she said

“I personally was very angry because ever since changing my name… I do seem to be getting treated differently by lots of organisations [compared to when I had] a very standard, stereotypical British surname.”

Angry

Before changing her surname, Ms Szewczak-Harris said she had never been questioned about her right to use the NHS.

“It seems like someone has seen my name on a list and flagged it up.

“It did make me think, ‘Am I going to be turned away if I don’t have my passport [when] I go into labour and I turn up at the hospital. Are they going to tell me that I can’t give birth?’”

“It made me angry to imagine what women who maybe aren’t so certain that they have access to that healthcare, how they must be feeling. I can’t even begin to imagine how another woman at eight-and-a half-months pregnant must feel.”

Women should not be thinking about their status as British residents “but rather focussing on having [a] stress-free labour”, she said.

Ms Szewczak-Harris said she thought the letters were to do with the “general anti-immigrant feeling in the country that has been whipped up by the tabloid press”.

“I think it has something more to do with general health tourism. But I think it just indicates general xenophobia and it is obviously connected to Brexit.

“Me and my husband are worried enough as it is because he is Polish. We are worried if Brexit is going to affect us. In line with that [the letter] is frightening.”

Ms Szewczak-Harris is unsure what to do with the letter. She has contacted her local MP and is in contact with the Docs Not Cops group, which aims to fight against “bringing borders into [the] NHS”.

‘Deliberate cruelty’

Leonie, a midwife and member of the group, said there was concern women were not getting the treatment they needed and their health would suffer as a result of the letters.

“There is a deliberate cruelty in the Government piloting these checks in maternity services, targeting women who are already pushed to the margins of society and who will find it hard to get support to challenge these letters and get the care they deserve.

“Docs Not Cops believe healthcare is a right not a privilege and should be provided on a basis of need, not on ability to pay or to provide identity documents. Its devastating that NHS Trusts don’t have the courage to stand up for their patients and say no to the introduction of immigration checks and upfront charging.”

In October 2016, St George’s Hospital Trust in London announced every non-emergency patient accessing maternity treatment would be asked to show a form of photo ID or proof of right to remain in the UK as a pilot scheme.

The trust said it was treating a high number of patients from overseas who are not eligible for NHS treatment. Since then, the scheme has been rolled out to a number of other hospitals.

A spokesman for Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, of which Addenbrooke’s Hospital is part of, said: “The Department of Health has asked the Trust to pilot a scheme to allow us to better monitor and collect payment from overseas patients who are not eligible for free NHS treatment.

“This brings us into line with national NHS guidelines and how many other Trusts operate. “From 01 August 2017, all non-emergency patients in maternity and urology have been asked in their appointment letters to provide two forms of identification when they attend – one to prove identity and one as proof of residence. Once you have provided this information you will not be asked again.

“If a patient is not eligible for free NHS care, they will be charged for any treatment we give them and, from the 23 October, there is a statutory requirement to withhold treatment where clinical staff assess the routine aspect of their care can wait until they return to their home country.”

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