Medical Justice report criticises continued detention of pregnant women by Home Office UKBA

Detaining pregnant women seriously damages their health and puts their babies at risk, new report warns

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A disturbing new report published today by Medical Justice states that stillbirth, miscarriage and acute psychosis are amongst the problems experienced by pregnant women held in immigration removal centres in the UK.

The report named, Expecting Change: the case for ending the immigration detention of pregnant women, is released today (June 11th) by the charity Medical Justice. It exposes the injustice and ineffectiveness of detaining pregnant women for immigration purposes.

During 2011 some 93 pregnant women were held in Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre. The UKBA claims that the primary purpose of detention is to effect removal. However; this research and a previous Medical Justice audit show that only around 5% of pregnant women were successfully removed. Since a damning case earlier this year the Home Office has been prohibited from using force on pregnant women when trying to deport them. But the report still shows that the psychological effects of detention can lead to failed pregnancies, often endangering the life of the mother.

The report backs calls made by Asylum Aid in its women’s charter, which was signed by 337 different organisations, for an end to the detention of pregnant women.

The report indicates that the healthcare these women received whilst in detention was inadequate and fell short of the NHS equivalent. Healthcare staff failed to identify and manage some of the more complex cases.

Natasha Tsangarides, the report’s author said: “The results show that the current policy of detaining pregnant women for immigration purposes is ineffective, unworkable and damaging. We estimate that the government could save £800,000 per year if it stopped detaining and forcibly removing pregnant women.”

Diane Abbott MP, Labour’s shadow public health minister and MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington said: “The government cannot go on turning a blind eye to this.  This inhumane treatment of women who are pregnant is a hidden national scandal.”

Louise Silverton, Director for Midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives said: “The detention of pregnant asylum seekers increases the likelihood of stress, which can risk the health of the unborn baby. Midwives can only work in the context of what they are allowed to do by their managers. The very process of being detained interrupts a woman’s fundamental human right to access maternity care. The detention system makes it very difficult for midwives to put women at the centre of their care. We have concerns that the system in place actively inhibits the provision of good care. This is an untenable situation for midwives.”

Dr Tony Falconer: President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) said: “Pregnant asylum seekers and refugees are often very vulnerable and any form of detention puts them and their babies at greater risk.  We must ensure that these pregnant women receive high quality NHS maternity care. This includes antenatal support and access to purpose-built medical facilities away from detention centres.”

The Medical Justice report calls on the government to stop detaining pregnant women and says that detaining pregnant women serves no real purpose.

The Home Office appears to have no record of the number of pregnant women who have been detained. This raises serious questions as to what steps the Government is taking to protect the health and interests of these women and their unborn children.


About Medical Justice’s Report
Medical Justice is an expert charity that challenges inadequate healthcare provision to immigration detainees. The report is based on detailed analysis of 20 cases and an earlier audit of 56 cases.

If you or a friend or relative has been detained by the Home Office under the Immigration Act, we may be able to help – call 020 8401 7352 to speak to a specialist immigration solicitor