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Health Tourism: NHS hospitals lost £180million in 5 years


Cash-strapped NHS hospitals have lost over £180million to 'health tourists' since a Government pledge to crackdown on the scandal.

Freedom of Information data shows NHS services are losing the equivalent of £100,000 per day due to unpaid care bills.

The unpaid cash could have paid for the equivalent of 6,000 nurses, 5,500 junior doctors, or 30,000 hip replacements.

While visitors to the UK can access urgent and emergency NHS treatment, they are expected to pay for it.

Last year the NHS wrote off £36million in debts from health tourists — double the £16million recorded in 2017, the year that the Department of Health issued tough new guidance instructing staff to bill patients before starting most treatments.

London's NHS trusts had the biggest write offs, the FOI revealed, with Barts Health NHS alone accounting for £31million of the sum lost in the last five years.

Fellow London trusts King’s College Hospital Trust and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Trust had bills of £15.2million and £13.3million, respectively.

Some individual patients have previously left unpaid NHS bills valued at £500,000.

This includes a Nigerian woman who gave birth to quadruplets after going into labour shortly after landing at Heathrow.

Priscilla, 43 at the time, had intended to fly to Chicago to have her babies, but was turned away by US officials who claimed she would be unable to afford the healthcare costs.

Two died shortly after because they were so premature. The other two, Elijah and Esther, spent weeks on the hospital's neonatal intensive care ward, racking up an extensive bill.

Experts also fear the published total is just the tip of the iceberg as it only represents cases where invoices were generated and then not paid.

They suspect that, in many cases, NHS officials have never issued bills to health tourists because they consider little success of them being paid.

NHS hospitals are meant to charge patients who aren't residents in the UK a 150 per cent rate of what it would typically cost the health service to perform any procedure normally.

For example, a hip replacement has been estimated to cost the NHS £6,000, but under the aforementioned rules would cost an overseas visitor, in theory, £9,000.

Patients needing emergency care are still charged but are invoiced after any medical care.

These rules apply to both foreign travellers visiting the UK as well as British citizens who aren't residents, for example ex-pats returning home to visit family.

While health tourists have to pay for most NHS treatments some are free to all.

These include attending A&E for an assessment, though this doesn't include any subsequent treatment, family planning services not including abortions or IVF and treatment for diseases that could infect the wider public

Any treatment for injury and conditions caused by torture, mutilation, or domestic or sexual violence which has happened in England is also not charged, though those who come to the UK specifically for treatment in these areas will still have to pay.