St George's Hospital said the guidelines on maternal health were already in place so the proposal would just putting them into practice / Getty Images

St George's Hospital in London is trialling a new scheme where all women will be asked to show their passport before treatment

Pregnant women could be forced to show their passports when they give birth at NHS hospitals as part of a plan to crack down on "health tourism".

A pilot scheme run by St George’s University Hospitals Foundation Trust and backed by the Government will see every woman who arrives in their maternity wings having to prove she has the right to use the health service.

The London trust said women would be asked for photo ID or proof that they live in the country permanently.

Due to a change in the law it will also be able to charge for the use of ambulance and A&E services if patients cannot prove their identity – unless it is an emergency or a matter of life and death.

St George’s said the measure was to combat the growing problem of maternity and health tourism at UK hospitals and the “blanket” approach to all women was to avoid accusations of discrimination.

They highlighted a particular problem where con men have been found to be charging women from Nigeria to have babies on the NHS.

The proposals from a recent board meeting at the trust, seen by Health Service Journal, said: “At booking every patient will need to show a form of photo ID or proof of their right to remain (asylum status, visa, etc).

“Any patient who is unable to do this will be referred to the trust’s overseas patient team for specialist document screening, in liaison with the UK Border Agency and the Home Office.

“No one will be discriminated against. The intention is for this to become standard procedure.”

NHS trusts are supposed to charge patients from outside Europe for healthcare unless they have the right to reside in the UK but many have struggled to recoup the costs from people who live overseas.

Estimates published by fact checking charity, FullFact, last year found that the annual cost of foreigners using the NHS was around £2bn.

Of this, the Department of Health predicted that £500m per year could be recovered but only £100m was received in 2013/14.

It said the number of people who came to the UK deliberately to seek treatment was small - roughly between £110m and £280m a year - with the majority of overseas patients being forced to use it in an emergency.

But according to the Daily Telegraph, the number of visitors or migrants on temporary visas giving birth in the NHS reached 50,000 last year. 

A spokesman for St George’s Hospital told The Independent that the ID policy would only apply to non-emergency patients and any woman would couldn’t provide ID would be handed over to the overseas patient team for specialist document screening.

He said: “Like many London Trusts, we treat a high number of patients from overseas who are not eligible for NHS treatment. All patients in need of emergency NHS care at St George’s are treated and prioritised accordingly, regardless of their eligibility. 

St George's Hospital in London says it receives large numbers of women on temporary visas arriving in its maternity wing (Getty Images)

“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. 

“We will continue to treat patients presenting to St George’s, whilst also looking at ways of tightening up our existing processes for ineligible patients accessing non-emergency treatment.”

Existing guidelines already recommend the measure and the board’s proposal would just see this happening in practice, he added.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "NHS Trusts and Foundation Trusts in England are legally obliged to check whether patients are eligible for non-emergency NHS treatment free at the point of use, and recover costs from the overseas patients who are not normally resident in the UK where charges apply.

"We welcome St George's pilot to test new processes to recoup costs from overseas patients and look forward to the results."