St George’s Hospital in Tooting is proposing to check pregnant women’s identification before they can access maternity care in a crackdown on health tourists form overseas plundering the NHS.

Plans to make women who attend hospital show photo ID or proof of their right to remain - such as their asylum status or a visa –are set out in the St George's University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s October board papers.

Under the scheme, which would need piloting before being permanently rolled out, women not able to provide ID would be sent to the trust's overseas patient team "for specialist document screening, in liaison with the UKBA (border agency) and the Home Office.”

Emergency patients would not be asked for their ID, the trust says.

Papers state there is a rising number of overseas visitors accessing NHS care who are not entitled to treatment.

An email in the board papers written by Jo Johnson, head of private and overseas patients for the trust, states: "The problem is escalating within obstetrics and we have just been made aware that individuals are currently offering paid assistance to women in Nigeria to have their babies for free on the NHS at St George's."

It adds: "St George's is targeted as it does not currently have a robust process to check eligibility.

"We know from feedback from other non-eligible patients that St George's is viewed as an 'easy target'."

The email goes on to say the local health economy is losing around £4.6m a year from patients who are not entitled to access the system.

A St George's Hospital spokesman said: "Like many London trusts, we treat a high number of patients from overseas who are not eligible for NHS treatment. All patients in need of emergency NHS care at St George's are treated and prioritised accordingly, regardless of their eligibility.

"Our priority at all times is to provide care and treatment to patients requiring our services. However, we also have a duty to ensure we use our resources wisely.

"The guidelines state that hospitals should endeavour to check patients for their eligibility when accessing non-emergency NHS treatment. We are not doing this effectively enough at present, and are looking at ways in which we can improve this.

"We will continue to treat patients presenting to St George's, whilst also looking at ways of tightening up our existing processes for ineligible patients accessing non-emergency treatment."

Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said: "This move by the trust is a concern. I am sure no trust would deny care to women in labour or who are pregnant and arrive at a hospital needing urgent care related to their pregnancy. To be clear, the law says, and government policy states, that trusts must offer care to women in labour, irrespective of their immigration status in the country.

"On the wider level, midwives also have more than enough to do without checking women's eligibility and determining their immigration status.

"They are not border guards; they are healthcare professionals there to deliver clinical care to all women. This is not their job and never should be, and we must assume that the trust will not require them to do this. Their job is to care for the women who walk through the doors of their maternity unit and it is the responsibility of trusts to care for and treat these women.

"Most importantly, this move could also be dangerous because it could deter women from seeking care in a timely fashion. This could potentially have a serious impact on the health of the mother and their baby and the outcome of the pregnancy.

"I would ask the trust to clarify their policy and to give assurances that all pregnant women who need care will receive it, no matter what their immigration status."