Frontline workers supporting expectant mothers and women with newborns living at the Novotel hotel in Stevenage said some were forced to walk miles in slippers and no coats days before their babies got basic supplies.
They state that there have been cases of highly infectious diseases, such as scabies and diphtheria at the hotel, and there is concern that women have limited access to adequate food to support their pregnancies.
Ros Bragg, director of Maternity Action, a leading national organization maternity human rights charity, said the poor conditions faced by women in Stevenage are reflected in hotels across the country.
A local midwife, who did not want to be named but visited the hotel, said new mothers are “distraught” and many have health problems because they received little or no medical attention during their pregnancies.
“They are the most vulnerable women I have seen in my career,” she said. “Some colleagues have left the hotel crying. The women I have seen are from Albania, Georgia, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Pakistan. They have been through very traumatic experiences and now they are being retraumatized.”
She said a pregnant woman her team is supporting ran away. domestic abuse in her home country, where her ex-partner’s family threatened her with death, while another flees threatened violence in an honor abuse case.
“A woman’s children and her partner were sent to Croydon, but she was sent here. None of these women speak English. It is really annoying. It is as if they have been given freedom, but in reality they are not free. They are in prison because they are isolated and have no options.”
The midwife and her team at Lister Hospital began receiving visits from the 17 pregnant women at the hotel around October 5. Many have not had access to routine testing, which means that diagnoses of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia may have been missed. Their babies are also missing vital checks.
She said: “Women could have HIV, hepatitis or syphilis since they haven’t been tested. Also, we haven’t scanned the babies. We have not looked for any cardiac abnormalities.
“It feels very unfair and very dangerous that they didn’t have medical care during their pregnancies. Pregnant women are crying. They are depressed. They are isolated and scared. Women are not at all ready to have a baby. They need much more support. They have nothing at all.”
The matron explained that many have not been eating enough because they only have access to three small meals a day prepared at the hotel. The women also rely on charities for basic items like diapers, clothing, and car seats.
The number of pregnant women staying at the hotel has also put pressure on health services, the midwife said. “It adds to an already stretched workload. We weren’t expecting these women, so it was a big shock. We are not ready for it. It’s chaotic,” she added.
Daniel Barnes, senior pastor at Stevenage Vineyard Church, said the independent that the church has been supporting various families at the hotel through their charity shedwhich provides new clothes and baby items to vulnerable and needy people.
He said: “At first, a number of new and expectant mothers would come to us looking for basic baby clothes for themselves and their soon-to-be newborn, in some cases walking miles to us with no coats or socks and just slippers, just various days before your delivery date.
Barnes noted that initially only the broader health and legal services had access to the hotel, while local services had to wait around six weeks to provide support.
“We have been able to respond by providing clothing and equipment for babies and children, but the general need in the community for practical items such as diapers, baby wipes, as well as financial donations, will always be present,” he added. .
Ms Bragg, from Maternity Action, said the independent that the picture is similar at other Home Office hotels and that midwives across the country are raising similar concerns.
She said: “Midwives contact us concerned that the women are receiving poor diets. They are not given fresh fruits or vegetables, or snacks to help with hunger pangs or to deal with morning sickness.
“Women cannot cook for themselves. They do not have enough money to buy food at the local supermarket. They totally depend on what the hotels offer. Midwives are concerned about the impact this is having on the health of women and their babies.”
The campaigner explained that the women receive just £8 a week to cover any additional needs, but warned that this is insufficient.
Ms Bragg added: “The Home Office claims that any additional needs pregnant women and new mothers have will be met by their accommodation provider, in this case the hotel, but this is simply not happening.
“In theory, the accommodation provider provides the baby equipment (strollers, bottles, cribs), but we constantly hear that women are left without this support.”
Some of the hotels where the women have been staying are “very poorly” located, meaning the women cannot travel by public transport to health services, he said.
“In theory, women should be reimbursed for travel to medical appointments. But in reality, problems with Home Office paperwork mean that many women cannot access this support and have difficulty keeping their appointments.”
Ms Bragg said the rules around immigrant women’s right to free maternity care are “confusing” and that the charity learns of “ridiculous numbers of women who have been improperly charged” through your advisory service.
She said this could deter some women from seeking medical care because they fear they will run up big debts to see their midwife.
“Women with asylum applications have the right to free care, but there are many migrant women who are forced to pay. There is widespread confusion about who is and who is not entitled to free care, which is why many women avoid health care services.”
He said the charity had not seen government guidance outlining the support pregnant women staying at a hotel should receive, arguing that ministers should provide guidance to hotels on food and other support for future mothers and new mothers.
The Interior Ministry did not respond to the independentRequests for Comments.