Pregnant women: ‘Papers, please!’

It might just be the increasingly autumnal weather, but it seems that every day another government announcement is made that chills me to the bone.

This morning I read in the Telegraph of a new pilot scheme, devised by the Home Office, that will force pregnant women to prove their right to use the NHS when planning to give birth.

It seems that con men have been making money by charging women (particularly from Nigeria) to use NHS services.

With breathtaking alacrity, the story explains that the London trust that is piloting the scheme (St George’s) decided to impose a blanket condition on all pregnant women ‘to avoid charges of discrimination’.

st-george_s-hospital

St George’s Hospital

There are several problems with this.

First of all, it’s victim-blaming. If it is true, as St George’s say, that it has fallen victim to “organised illegal activity”, the response should focus on the perpetrators of that illegal activity. This response does nothing to deal directly with the con men who are promoting so-called ‘maternity tourism’.

Secondly, it’s likely to lead to discrimination anyway. Harassed staff will screen to save time and white women will be asked for their proof of ID less frequently than people of colour.

Thirdly, this is another step towards a ‘papers, please’ culture in the NHS and in our public services generally. The story says the pilot is part of “national efforts to ensure that proof of ID is routinely presented before patients access all NHS care.”

Two better solutions would be doing proper detective work to investigate and destroy the networks that enable men to con pregnant women, and funding the NHS properly so that it does not have to embrace euphemistic ‘revenue protection’ practices. But the Home Office has almost always preferred lazy authoritarian solutions.

Finally, the story doesn’t go into details on what happens if heavily pregnant women are found not to have the right to use NHS services. Perhaps that would be too distasteful for the dainty consciences of average Telegraph readers.

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