London - When Louise Kirwan found she was expecting twins, doctors told the 30-year-old not to fly.
But, after she cancelled a family holiday, her insurers told her she could not claim the cost of the trip – as “pregnancy is not an illness”.
Mrs Kirwan and husband Adam, who have a 14-month-old daughter, Polly, paid £719 (about R12 000) for a holiday in Tenerife next February.
But a few weeks after booking the trip in September, she found she was expecting twins and would be 29 weeks pregnant at the time of their trip.
As the Kirwans’ NatWest travel insurance – for which they pay £6 a month – permits flying up to the 34th week of pregnancy, they continued making plans to go.
But at her 12-week scan the public relations adviser was told by doctors she should not fly after 24 weeks because twins made her pregnancy more complicated.
According to The Sunday Times, she was given a doctor’s note saying: “In light of the twin pregnancy, [she] is unable to fly. She needs to cancel her holiday.”
The couple, from Manchester, spoke to several “rude and dismissive” advisers at NatWest who refused to reimburse them.
Mrs Kirwan, who has banked with NatWest for 25 years, said: “They asked me, ‘Are you ill?’ I argued it was a complication in my pregnancy, that it’s not straightforward. But they said, ‘It’s not a medical condition. You’re not ill.’
“It was so patronising. Where is the customer loyalty? Can we just have a little bit of consideration and empathy? What is happening to us is life-changing.”
The bank wrote to Mrs Kirwan saying: “Pregnancy is not an illness and therefore not a valid reason to cancel your trip.”
The 42-page insurance policy – which begins with a promise to be “fair and reasonable” – does not mention what happens in the event of a pregnancy.
Sean Tipton of travel agents’ association Abta, said that it was a “fairly unusual” case.
“If you have received medical advice that you should not travel, then generally you should be able to claim on your travel insurance for any consequent cancellation charge,” he said.
Experts said insurers needed to be clearer about policies on claims resulting from pregnancy complications. Holly Mackay, of consumer advice website Boring Money, accused the bank of coming across “like an unsympathetic 1950s headmistress”.
Sarah Pennells, of financial advice website Savvy Woman, said women faced a “catch-22 situation” of choosing to either ignore doctors’ advice or lose the cost of their holiday.
She said: “Travel insurers, banks and price-comparison sites have a duty to flag up that cover may be limited if you are pregnant. Finding the right travel insurance policy to cover pregnancy can be a minefield.
“Some policies pay out only if there are complications with your pregnancy, while others will pay out if you have to cancel your holiday because your doctor says you’re not fit to fly.”
After being contacted by reporters, NatWest said that, in light of the note from Mrs Kirwan’s doctor, it would now reimburse the full £719. A spokesperson said: “We assess each claim individually and, in this case, we are covering the cost. The bank said it had been given the doctor’s note only last week, and agreed to pay out as soon as it had received it.”
But Mrs Kirwan said she told staff she had been given medical advice and they had not suggested until last week that a letter would affect their response.
She added: “It’s not about the money, it’s the principle – I just felt discriminated against. No one would actually listen to me, it was as if I didn’t fit into the categories of being ill, injured or that someone had passed away, so that was it as far as they were concerned.”