More than 300 pregnant women were stopped at British airports over the past two years seeking free medical care from the UK’s public health care system, the Sunday Telegraph reported.
According to the paper, some are flying in just days before they give birth in order to exploit Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), a taxpayer-funded program under which many medical procedures are then provided free of charge.
“Most of the women had to be admitted and allowed to give birth on the NHS, the report found, because their pregnancies were too advanced for them to fly home,” the Telegraph wrote in its front page Sunday story.
The Daily Mail previously reported that the numbers of maternity tourists could be in the thousands.
Though airlines have policies against allowing women in advanced stages of pregnancy to board flights, some of the women were found to be carrying forged doctors’ notes concealing the true stage of their pregnancies, the Telegraph reported.
Janet Fyle, of the Royal College of Midwives, told the Daily Mail that if a woman enters a hospital in labor nurses would not quiz them about their medical coverage.
“The role of the midwife is to treat the woman and baby regardless of their color, creed or where they come from,” Fyle said.
The Telegraph wrote:
The disclosure will heighten growing fears over “health tourism”, which sees foreigners coming to Britain for free NHS care.
The problem of “maternity tourism” has become so acute that staff at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust, in London, refer to the flow of West African women flying in to give birth as the “Lagos Shuttle”.
The Telegraph cited an unpublicized report “Visitor and Migrant Use of the NHS in England: Observations from the Front Line” published this past fall which quoted an unnamed immigration official who said, “Sometimes they will come back for their second or third baby.”
An NHS overseas visitor officer who was quoted in the report said: “People coming into hospital from overseas know the rules better than the hospital staff.”
An unnamed British Health Department spokesman said: “We have a National Health Service, not an international health service, and we must stamp out abuse of the system.”