Victims of sex trafficking 'at risk' over NHS charging plans

Confusion over whether the charges would apply to maternity services, says RCM

Plans to charge non-EU migrants more for NHS care could put vulnerable women and victims of sex trafficking at risk, midwives have warned.

The health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced plans to end free GP care for short-term visitors earlier this week.

However, Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said that there was confusion over whether the charges would apply to maternity services, which could deter vulnerable women from seeking help.

"The extension of charges to primary care services such as GPs is a concern," she said. "This may deter some women, such as those from vulnerable groups including those that have been refused asylum or have been trafficked, from accessing care at this level. I fear that these women could fall through the cracks and only find their way into the health system when it is too late, if at all."

Plans to make immigrants contribute more to the health service also include a proposed levy of at least £200 for foreigners visiting Britain for more than six months.

Mr Hunt said he was "determined to wipe out abuse of in the system".

The plans have also been criticised by doctors who warned against turning health provision into "a form of immigration control".

"I am deeply concerned that the lack of clarity around maternity services could lead to midwives having to 'police' access to services, and this would be unacceptable," Ms Warwick added. "Previous guidance to provide care to pregnant women irrespective of the woman's ability to pay should still stand. Midwives owe a duty of care to pregnant women and their babies and they should be free to provide care to any women who walk through their doors."

A Department of Health spokesperson said that the plans were at the consultation stage and it had not yet been determined whether maternity services would be covered by new charges.

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