Posted on July 5, 2011

‘Now I’ve Had My Five Babies Here, I Want to Stay’, Says Nigerian ‘Health Tourism’ Mother

Nick McDermott, Daily Mail (London), July 4, 2011

A Nigerian woman who has cost the NHS up to £200,000 after flying into Britain while expecting quintuplets is to fight for the right to stay.

Bimbo Ayelabola, 33, who had been taking double doses of a fertility drug while in Africa, applied for a six-month visitor’s visa within days of discovering she was pregnant.

As soon as it was granted, she travelled to the UK without her husband late last year on the pretence of visiting her three sisters.

An emergency NHS scan showed she was expecting four babies.

Owing to the size and complexity of the birth, she underwent a caesarean section 32 weeks into her pregnancy on April 28.

During the procedure at Homerton Hospital in East London, doctors discovered there was a fifth child. She gave birth to two boys, Tayseel and Samir, and three girls: Aqeelah, Binish and Zara.

Although she was due to leave last week, she believes the children are too frail to travel and has instructed lawyers to seek an extension to her visitor’s visa.

The total bill to the taxpayer for Mrs Ayelabola’s care alone is expected to reach £200,000, which she is unable to pay.

The five babies were all treated in a special care unit because they were born prematurely, at a cost of £1,000 a day for each of them.

Consequently, the cost of a week’s hospital care for the family would be a staggering £35,000 for the taxpayer.

The issue has raised yet again the issue of so-called ‘health tourism’–in which foreigners can use Britain’s state-funded health system. It is estimated to cost the NHS £200million a year.

Foreign nationals should be charged for the full cost of any treatment they receive, with most hospitals employing overseas visitor managers whose job is to identify those who must pay. But urgent treatment such as maternity care will always be provided regardless of residence status or ability to pay.

Hospitals must then take reasonable measures to recover any debts from overseas patients. Many bills are never settled, however.

And border officials repeatedly report seeing passengers arriving in an advanced state of pregnancy after securing a visitor’s visa. Around 150 cases a year are identified at Gatwick Airport.

Mrs Ayelabola, whose 37-year-old husband, Ohi, remains in Nigeria, has signed a five-figure deal with a red-top newspaper.

She said in an interview: ‘I had already had miscarriages and couldn’t bear the stress another pregnancy would cause. So I decided to visit my family in London. I thought I would stand a much better chance of avoiding another miscarriage in a calmer place with friends and family.

‘Now if I go back I’ll be on my own without even a roof over my head. My entire family support network–three sisters, four aunts and virtually all my school friends–live here.’

Mrs Ayelabola says she was unaware she was expecting as many as five children. The multiple birth is the likely result of the fertility drug Clomid, which she purchased over the counter in her home city of Lagos.

She began taking two pills a day–double the normal dose–and continued the regime for eight times longer than recommended.

Her children are being cared for with the help of her 26-year-old sister Stella, with whom she is living at a two-bedroom flat in Poplar, East London.

‘The NHS is a national health service, not an international one.’

Mrs Ayelabola, who is not entitled to any state benefits and does not have the right to work, says she is struggling to pay for her family, with nappies and milk powder alone costing her £70 a week.

Despite being born in the UK, the children do not have an automatic right to British citizenship. To qualify, they would need at least one parent who is British, or who has indefinite leave to remain in the country.

A spokesman for the Home Office said: ‘The NHS is a national health service, not an international one. We expect those with no right to be in the UK to leave voluntarily otherwise we will seek to remove them.’

The UK Border Agency can deny someone entry into the country if they believe they are seeking free healthcare. But the rules are hard to enforce. In March, the Government announced plans to tackle health tourism. Measures include preventing anyone who owes the NHS more than £1,000 from entering the country until the debt is paid off.

Last night, from behind a closed door, Mrs Ayelabola said: ‘I am not happy about what has been written about me, that is not what I told them. You need to speak to my lawyer, I do not want to comment.’