Pregnant And Scared: The Effects of NHS ‘Health Tourism’ Rules

In a shocking report, The Independent has recently brought to light the case of an immigrant woman who was heavily pregnant but could not approach doctors. The woman’s foetus was believed to be dead inside her womb since no heartbeat could be detected, but, due to fear of being denied re – entry into the United Kingdom owing to medical debts, she chose to forgo medical care and instead opted to wait out till the foetus was born naturally. Her actions were due to the recently enacted ‘NHS Debt Rules’. These were introduced only in the year 2011, to curb the rising number of illegal immigrants using the United Kingdom’s health care facilities.

Under these rules, it is stated that any person owing debts greater that a thousand pounds to the NHS will not be given a visa to the United Kingdom. The above mentioned woman’s husband is a migrant worker in the United Kingdom. When she went to the doctors, they advised her that surgery was her only option. Unfortunately, that surgery would cost thousands of pounds. She knew that she would not be able to pay her medical bills. Since her visa was due to expire, she chose to forgo all medical treatment in the hope of getting a two years wife’s visa renewed, so that she could continue to live with her husband.

The chilling case was discovered when a petition challenging the legality of the NHS Debt Rules was filed at the London High Court. What’s really sad is that this is not an isolated incident. In a well – developed country with highly advanced medical care like United Kingdom, this sort of a practice is almost barbaric. To strike such fear into the hearts of immigrants, that they don’t seek basic medical care is nothing short of sickening. During the hearing, various doctors spoke out against the rules, citing many examples of psychiatric patients, who posed a threat to both themselves and society, were too frightened to visit a doctor.

Another disturbing aspect of the debt rules is that the NHS passes on confidential patient records to the United Kingdom Border Agency. This is a direct ramification of the need to restrict entry of individuals who owe the NHS money into the United Kingdom. Though the NHS claimed that there was no breach of doctor patient confidentiality since the information shared with the UKBA was absolutely irrelevant to the patient’s medical history, people remained skeptical.

The pregnant woman’s attorney divulged a few details about her case which made plain her trauma. He explained that she realized her baby hadn’t moved in weeks and visited the doctor. There she was given the painful news that her foetus did not have a heartbeat and had died inside her uterus. They explained that they would need to artificially induce labour to deliver the baby and the process would cost nearly two thousand and five hundred pounds. However, knowing that it was impossible for her to pay the amount, she opted out of medical care. Her attorney guided her to a charitable hospital and they gave her the medical attention she needed.