Border Agency 'endangering pregnant women's health'

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Image caption The agency says a policy change means women are not moved within four weeks of their due date

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) is endangering the health of some pregnant women seeking asylum and their babies by relocating them, a report has said.

The report by Maternity Action and the Refugee Council found examples of women moved against medical advice and too close to their due date.

Twenty women and 17 midwives involved in their care were interviewed.

A UKBA spokesman said the conclusions were drawn from a small sample, and ignored recent policy changes.

The study also found examples of:

  • Women being moved to new accommodation multiple times
  • Women being separated from the father of their baby
  • Women giving birth without a birth partner following a move

The report also points out that asylum-seeking women often have high-risk pregnancies, due to serious physical health conditions that can be related to having fled torture, sexual violence or female genital mutilation in their own countries.

Many suffer from serious mental health conditions, including severe depression, flashbacks and suicidal thoughts, the report added.

But UKBA relocations were separating women from specialist treatment and monitoring, it said, contrary to National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence guidance.

"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," said Maternity Action director Rosalind Bragg.

"Our society is failing these women and their babies," said Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives.

Ms Warwick added: "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 understand their needs."

'Resources wasted'

There were also examples of NHS resources being wasted when scans and tests were repeated following a relocation, the report said.

Shan 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."

The Refugee Council and Maternity Action are calling on the government to urgently review its policies to ensure the asylum system no longer puts women and their babies at risk.

A UKBA spokesman said: "We consider every case individually and, wherever possible, women in the latter stages of pregnancy will not be moved to a different area.

"Last year we introduced a revised pregnancy dispersal policy which includes a commitment to not move any pregnant woman during the four weeks before or after her due date."

He said that asylum-seekers were only moved when it was "safe and practical to do so", adding: "Those with severe or complex healthcare needs have their clinicians notified throughout the process."

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