UK Border Agency putting health of mothers and babies at risk

Scottish Refugee Council calls on the UK Border Agency to consider the particular needs of pregnant and post natal asylum seekers.

Nina Murray, Women’s Policy Officer at Scottish Refugee Council said:

“Pregnancy can be an anxious time for any woman but particularly so for women in the asylum process. Many women seeking sanctuary in the UK have experienced torture, sexual violence or female genital mutilation in their own countries and suffer serious health complications as a result.

Asylum seeking women may not speak English or know what kind of health care is available to them. They are also very likely to be living in poverty and face on going uncertainty about their future. With these complex needs, pregnant and postnatal asylum seeking women are especially vulnerable.

While all asylum seekers are entitled to free NHS health care in Scotland and most asylum seeking women in Scotland face less upheaval and less interruption of ante and post-natal care than elsewhere in the UK, they still face significant barriers to accessing appropriate care.”

Interim findings from Scottish Refugee Council’s own study with Strathclyde University suggest that despite evidence of good practice in maternity provision in Glasgow, there are still many factors that can prevent women accessing the care they need. These include:

Access to knowledge and information about entitlements

One woman told us that when she went into labour she was not asked by hospital staff whether she needed an interpreter and she did not ask for one.  As a result, she ‘did not understand most things’.

Inappropriate interpreting

Language barriers pose significant problems. Quality in interpreting varies greatly and the use of male interpreters is also an issue. One woman we interviewed had a male interpreter on three occasions. She remembers finding it ‘embarrassing’.

Difficulties in getting to and from maternity appointments

It’s not uncommon for asylum seeking women to walk to hospital while heavily pregnant and even in labour.

Limited access to cash

Poverty in pregnancy and new motherhood can prevent asylum seeking women from following health professionals’ advice. Women on very limited cashless support (a pre-loaded payment card) face further difficulties as this can only be spent at designated supermarkets, which can be miles from their accommodation.

Nina Murray, Women’s Policy Officer at Scottish Refugee Council said:

“The UK Border Agency must recognise the particular vulnerabilities and needs of asylum seeking women and take urgent steps to ensure that the asylum process does not disrupt access to maternity care and put pregnant women and new-born children at further risk.”

Notes to Editors:

The research findings contained in the report, When maternity doesn’t matter: Dispersing pregnant women seeking asylum is available at www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/maternity .

The report is being launched in the Macmillan room, Portcullis House, Westminster on Monday 25 February, 6-8pm. Media welcome. Speakers include: Sarah Teather MP; Daghni Rajasingham, consultant obstetrician, a woman who was interviewed for the research; and Maurice Wren, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council. The launch is hosted by Sarah Teather MP, Richard Fuller MP and Fiona Mactaggart MP.