Don’t let the Tories tell you that making women show their passports while giving birth will save the NHS

You can’t have an isolationist policy on climate change, global terrorism, weapons deals, international cyber-crime, the Zika virus epidemic or the refugee crisis – and you can’t have an isolationist policy on birth

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The Independent Online

Women are set to be forced to show their passports before giving birth in NHS hospitals, and people couldn’t be happier. “It’s about time this government grew a pair of balls and implemented this across all NHS treatments,” one Daily Mail commenter said in response to the news, in one of the comments voted most popular by the newspaper’s readers. “I was taken seriously ill in the US and ended up in intensive care. I was left on a trolley until my husband proved we had insurance before anyone would treat me.” If only Britain could be so civilised, eh? It makes you wonder.

Showing your passport before you give birth is, I think, my second favourite Home Office scheme, right after the “go home” bus and coming in just ahead of the Snoopers’ Charter. I can’t help but smile when I imagine a bunch of middle-aged white blokes sitting in a room with Theresa May, saying: “So what’s the big issue here? Is it millionaires from Australia and America refusing to pay taxes? Foreign investors rushing in to buy up all the London properties which were previously earmarked for first-time buyers so they can rent them out to those same young people at extortionate prices? Or – hang on – is it pregnant women? I’ve heard they’re causing businesses to fold in their droves, and they’re taking up all the best seats on the underground. Who’s to say they’re not taking down the NHS one foetus at a time as well?”

In case you were wondering whether that’s a thoroughly logical line of thought, the Telegraph provides one startling example in its own coverage of the news of a Nigerian health tourist who cost the NHS £145,000 by having quintuplets which required a particularly complex Caesarean section. And since coming across Nigerian health tourists in the midst of multiple birth labours are fairly common (I delivered triplets on my way to work twice this week!), it’s fair enough to say that, before you know it, people won’t be there to administer your grandmother’s chemotherapy because they’ll be too busy dealing with all the quintuplets piling up in the obstetrics department. This is why denying people maternity care must be a priority, rather than chasing up innocent billionaires using dodgy tax loopholes who just want to be left alone on their yachts.

It’s not even the complete lack of compassion that is most galling about this policy, but the downright stupidity of it. If the NHS really is being overtaken by health tourists who are nine months pregnant coming to the UK and giving birth here, they’re probably going to turn up at A&E around the time when their waters have broken, rather than in time for the 12-week scan. And given that this policy “won’t apply in an emergency”, it’s hard to imagine what difference it can even make. 

Unless we’re planning on taking the “I know you’re 10cm dilated but would you mind just stuffing the child whose head is crowning in your vagina back into your womb for a bit until we’ve found the relevant paperwork?” approach, then I doubt we’re going to save much money anyway.

This news comes fresh off the back of a photograph doing the rounds on the internet last week, originally posted on Reddit by a man whose wife had given birth by Caesarean section and requested (like any normal person would) that she be able to hold her baby as soon as it was born. 

On an invoice sent to the couple, the delivery was billed at $3,106.28 (£2,530), plus two “lactation consults” (chats about breastfeeding) at $61.96, and a “skin-to-skin after C-Sec” (being able to hold the baby after delivery) at $39.35. Yes, a woman was charged to hold her own baby. 

Even though the man who posted the image was positive about the hospital, and good-naturedly said he understood the charge considering a nurse helped them to balance the baby properly on the mother while she lay on the surgical table, almost everyone who saw that birth bill (which totalled $13,280.49) reacted with an intuitive shock. 

On a human level, almost all of us feel that a woman should not run the risk of being denied the most basic of necessary healthcare and to be treated with decency during one of the most vulnerable periods of their life just because of money.

“If you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means,” Prime Minister Theresa May said during her speech at the Conservative Party conference last week. But I disagree. Citizenship on a local, regional and national level is important – I’m a citizen of my London borough, so I put my recycling in the right bins – but global citizenship is not a meaningless concept dreamt up by a roomful of millennials on MDMA. It’s a sensible response to the way our world works now.

You can’t have an isolationist policy on climate change, global terrorism, weapons deals, international cyber-crime, the Zika virus epidemic or the refugee crisis. The health tourism phenomenon isn’t a “British problem” that disappears once you start telling women in labour to take their quintuplets back to Nigeria. Like it or lump it, seeing yourself (and every British citizen) as “a citizen of the world” has become inevitable. 

Don’t let the Tories kid you: health tourism isn’t the reason the NHS is collapsing on their watch. But even if it were, then the only decent thing to do would be to respond with investment and a commitment to protecting basic human dignity. Because Brexit might mean Brexit, but a person is a person is a person. 

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