A heavily pregnant British woman has said she was refused treatment at a hospital until she could prove she was born in the country.
Emma Szewczak-Harris, 26, from Cambridge, added her Polish-born husband’s surname to her own when they married.
But when bosses at Addenbrooke’s Hospital spotted her signature on an official form, they sent a letter accusing her of ‘failure to provide proof of identification and residence’ with the implied threat that she would not get treatment.
Cambridge graduate Mrs Szweczak-Harris, who is eight months pregnant, said today that it was ‘a disgrace’ that she was targeted because of her half-Polish surname.
She added: ‘I’ve absolutely no idea why I received it other than my surname.
‘My husband is very angry about it – This makes us feel like second-class citizens.
‘As I’m pregnant, I’m going to the hospital a lot at the moment, but no one has at any point asked for my credentials which – as a born and bred Brit – are completely sound.
‘I’m stumped and angry that women in my condition, who are anxious enough as it is, should be made to worry about their access to care.’
The letter sent to Mrs Szweczak-Harris, dated October 12 from Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, is headed ‘failure to provide proof of identification and residence’.
It reads: ‘You recently attended an appointment at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and did not bring with you the required documents that would enable us to properly assess whether you are eligible for free NHS treatment, in line with Department of Health regulations.’
The letter goes on to say she must provide the relevant documents by October 30, with the implicit threat that treatment might be withheld.
Mrs Szweczak-Harris said: ‘After 26 years of living in the country and using the NHS, I’ve never had my identity policed until now.
‘Am I going to go into labour and then be denied treatment?
‘I went through everything and there’s nothing in my letters saying I shouldbring documentation.’
A spokesman for Addenbrooke’s said the letter was ‘part of a pilot scheme to stop overseas patients getting certain types of free healthcare on the NHS’ and that non-emergency maternity patients were asked in appointment letters to bring the proof of residence.
According to campaign group Docs Not Cops, from next Monday all NHS trusts in England will be forced to check the residency and immigration status of patients and demand upfront payment for care from those who can not prove their eligibility.
Addenbrooke’s is one of 20 hospitals that have piloted the scheme over the past year.
A spokeswoman for Docs Not Cops said: ‘Emma’s experience serves to highlight the fact that the introduction of immigration checks has made racial profiling an NHS policy.’
A Cambridge University Hospitals spokesman said: ‘The Department of Health has asked the trust to pilot a scheme to allow us to better monitor and collect payment from overseas patients who are not eligible for free NHS treatment.
‘This brings us into line with national NHS guidelines and how many other trusts operate.
‘From August 1, 2017 all non-emergency patients in maternity and urology have been asked in their appointment letters to provide two forms of identification when they attend – one to prove identity and one as proof of residence. Once you have provided this information you will not be asked again.
‘If a patient is not eligible for free NHS care, they will be charged for any treatment we give to them and, from October 23, there is a statutory requirement to withhold treatment where clinical staff assess if this routine aspect of their care can wait until they return to their home country.’