UK Border Agency putting health of mothers and babies at risk

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25 Feb 2013

- Midwives and MPs speak out in light of new report -

UK Border Agency policies are putting the health of hundreds of pregnant women and their babies at risk, a new report by Maternity Action and Refugee Council reveals today. The research found that the UK Border Agency is endangering the health of pregnant asylum seeking women and their babies by moving them to accommodation around the country, thereby removing them from essential healthcare and leading to isolation.

When maternity doesn’t matter, based on interviews with women directly affected and midwives involved in their care, is being launched today in Parliament by a cross-party group of MPs Sarah Teather MP, Richard Fuller MP and Fiona Mactaggart MP, who support changes to UKBA accommodation policies.DignityInPregnancy Cover

The report cites that asylum seeking women in the UK have high risk pregnancies, often due to serious physical health conditions having fled torture, sexual violence or female genital mutilation in their own countries, with many suffering from serious mental health conditions, including severe depression, flashbacks and suicidal thoughts. The study found, however, that due to UKBA’s policies, such women are being separated from the specialist treatment and monitoring they need throughout their pregnancies, contrary to guidance from the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

While the UKBA holds no information on the numbers of pregnant women they support, a Freedom of Information request showed that 615 women who were being supported by the UKBA in the first 6 months of 2011 had received maternity grants, and most of whom will have been affected by these accommodation policies.

The report found examples of:
• Pregnant women being moved away from essential healthcare against medical advice and too close to their due date
• Women being moved to new accommodation multiple times during pregnancy
• Women being separated from the father of their baby, and giving birth alone in new area, with no access to interpreters
• Women struggling to cope after birth of baby, and not having enough money to provide for them
• Wasted NHS resources: midwives were not always informed when their patients were moved and spent time searching for them, and scans and tests had to be repeated in their new area.

Maternity Action and the Refugee Council are calling on the government to urgently review its policies to ensure that pregnant women in the asylum system, and their babies, are no longer put at risk.

Cathy Warwick, General Secretary of the Royal College of Midwives says:
“It is shocking that in a country which, arguably, has one of the best maternity services in the world more is not being done to prevent such vulnerable women being denied high quality care. If these women or their babies are not to suffer serious consequences we must offer them the chance of continuity of care throughout pregnancy and childbirth from a team who understands their needs. Our society is failing these women and their babies. This is not acceptable particularly when the solutions are so obvious.”

Sarah Teather MP says:
“No pregnant woman or baby should have their health placed at risk because of their immigration status. The government surely agrees that the health of pregnant women and newborn babies is a priority. Many of these recommendations could be easily implemented within the current asylum system to ensure that maternity really does matter for every woman.” 

Shān Nicholas, Interim Chief Executive at the Refugee Council said:
“We work with pregnant women every day who have been ripped away from their families and healthcare, causing undue distress and health problems at what should be an exciting and positive time of their lives. The UKBA must stop sending pregnant women to live in new cities unless all risks have been considered and adequate healthcare arrangements have been made.”

Rosalind Bragg, Director at Maternity Action said:
“The very poor health of pregnant women in the asylum system is well documented.  It is high time the UKBA recognised asylum seeking women as being a particularly vulnerable group with complex needs, and urgently ensure their policies reflect this. All women deserve to be treated with dignity during pregnancy.”

Visit www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/maternity for the full report

Join our campaign today at #DignityinPregnancy