Margaret Greenwood, MP for Wirral West, is urging the government to ensure that all new and expectant mothers are informed of their right to free prescriptions, but that they need to obtain a maternity exemption certificate beforehand.
Women who are pregnant or have given birth in the past 12 months are eligible for free prescriptions, provided they possess a maternity exemption certificate that can be completed on their behalf by a midwife, GP, or health visitor.
Margaret Greenwood MP has written to the Health Secretary to press the government for action after a Wirral mother with a new baby contacted her to raise the issue because she was required to pay charges for a period when she did not hold a certificate.
After a new mother from Wirral got in touch with the MP about being charged for a period during which she did not possess a certificate, Margaret Greenwood MP has penned a letter to the Health Secretary urging the government to take action on the matter.
The constituent said that she was not told about the need for a maternity exemption certificate at any of her maternity appointments. If women claim free prescriptions without a maternity exemption certificate, they can face charges and fines.
According to the latest figures (for 2021) there were 595,948 live births in England and 3,034 in Wirral, but only 461,226 maternity exemption certificates were issued in England and 1,736 in Wirral.
These figures suggest that there may be thousands of women who are missing out; the figures do need to be handled with caution since some women may already be exempt for other reasons. Nevertheless, it is clear that this is an issue that the government needs to address.
Wirral Maternity Rights Advice Service can help with advice and support on a wide range of issues affecting pregnant women and new parents. It has a freephone line 0808 802 0062, open 10am – 1pm Monday – Friday, and also an email advice service. Full details are at https://maternityaction.org.uk/wirral-maternity-rights/
Margaret Greenwood commented, “The birth of a new baby is a cause for celebration, but it also means extra costs for families. It is important that new and expectant mothers do not miss out on help that they are entitled to, like free prescriptions.
“Families throughout the country are struggling to meet basic household bills at the moment and prescriptions are costly. I am concerned that some pregnant women and new mothers may be paying for prescriptions when they do not need to.
“I am also concerned by reports that some women have claimed free prescriptions without the relevant exemption certificate and then been fined for doing so – even though they should be entitled to them.
“It is really important that pregnant women and new mums are told that they need to have a maternity exemption certificate to receive free prescriptions.
“New mums should not be being fined for a simple oversight.
“The government should be doing much more to inform new and expectant mothers of their rights and of how to get a maternity exemption certificate.”
Families with new babies face having to pay for a whole range of new things like a cot, baby clothes, nappies and a pram at a time when the family may not have their usual income because the mother is on maternity leave and their partner may also have taken paternity leave.
Prescription charges are costly at £9.35 each. An article published in the British Medical Journal last September highlighted that some people are not picking up prescriptions to save on charges because of the high cost of living.
A report published by the Child Poverty Action Group in November also found that last year saw the biggest fall in families’ living standards since it started measuring the cost of raising a child ten years previously.
Information on applying for a maternity exemption certificate can be found at https://services.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/apply-for-maternity-exemption/start
It is important to be aware that applications can only be backdated for four weeks even though someone will fulfil the criteria for a certificate throughout their pregnancy and for the first year after giving birth.
Image: Hollie Santos