Video report by Helen Steel
A woman who lost her baby during pregnancy has spoken of the trauma of being fined for claiming the free prescriptions available to expectant mothers.
Sadie Hawkes, 33, from Leeds, miscarried before she received a maternity exemption certificate entitling her to free medication for the duration of her pregnancy.
She was then sent a letter demanding £9.35 for medication she had been given the week before her miscarriage – along with a fine of £46.75 for claiming it for free.
Ms Hawkes, a veterinary nurse, was told she could not apply for a retrospective exemption because she was no longer pregnant.
"I rang them up straight away - explained I've lost my baby and assumed they'll say 'that's fine, don't worry'," she said.
"[But] just the way she spoke to me - it's actually disgusting. She said I had to prove I was pregnant, which meant me having to go to my doctor's and get the notes. That was traumatic."
Maternity exemption certificates are only issued 12 weeks into pregnancy, but can take longer.
As many as one in three pregnant women never receive one. Many eligible patients are unaware of the requirement until they receive a fine, usually months later.
Under government rules, registration can only be backdated by a month, leaving women facing charges even after providing proof of their pregnancy dates.
Ms Hawkes' fine was waived after she challenged the demand, but she was still expected to pay for the prescription.
Nicola Good, another woman who was sent a fine after miscarrying, had to complain repeatedly before the charge was dropped.
"I was pregnant, I provided evidence and I feel like I've been discriminated against for miscarrying," she said.
Ms Hawkes and Ms Good are among more than 24,000 women who were sent letters last year demanding payment for prescriptions because they had failed to provide evidence of a pregnancy.
Almost 5,000 of those were forced to pay the original prescription cost because they were no longer pregnant.
Both women are now refusing to pay the prescription cost as well as the fine. They are being supported by Kim Leadbeater, the MP for Batley and Spen in West Yorkshire.
She said: "It seems that we have got a system that just isn't working. It seems quite logical and sensible that as soon as you are told the news that you are pregnant, you should get that certificate which says that you are exempt from paying prescriptions."
The Department of Health said it recognised the "stress" the letters could cause, but added: "Patients are responsible for ensuring they are claiming an entitlement to which they are eligible, and making a correct declaration on their prescription form."
What is a maternity exemption certificate?
A maternity exemption certificate entitles you to free NHS prescriptions.
You can also use the certificate as proof that you are entitled to free NHS dental treatment while you are pregnant.
You are entitled to a maternity exemption certificate if, at the time of your application, you are pregnant or have given birth in the last 12 months.
A midwife, doctor or health visitor can complete the application for you as soon as they confirm that you’re pregnant.
The certificate can be sent by email or in the post within 10 working days.
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