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Women have been prevented from having abortions because NHS staff wrongly demanded payment up front, the government has admitted.

The cases came to light in a legal document released last year during the judicial review of charging regulations, The Guardian reported.

NHS hospitals in England were told to charge people deemed ineligible for free care before they were treated from October 2017, unless they needed for urgent treatment. Beforehand patients had generally been treated and sent a bill afterwards. Campaigners have argued the rule is often misapplied and has led to migrants being denied care for conditions including cancer.

The government said that 22 patients were wrongly ordered to pay before they could be treated, despite needing urgent care. These included 3 women who did not have abortions because they could not pay in advance.

In November data released under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that at least 2279 patients had been charged upfront between October 2017 and June 2018, of whom 341  did not continue with their intended treatments after being told to pay. Anna Miller, policy and advocacy manager at Doctors of the World, said “ These 22 cases are just the tip of the iceberg.  They make it clear that hospitals are struggling to implement this inhumane and impossible policy, which turns NHS charging into an issue of life and death.”

She said that the requirement to treat urgent cases for payment upfront had been intended as a safeguard but that it was not working.

The Department of Health and Social Care said that it had updated its guidance to make it clearer for doctors.

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