NHS claims back just one third of the £91m billed from ‘health tourists’

NHS hospitals recouped just one third of the £91 million billed from patients from outside Europe last year, despite Government pledges to crack down on so-called “health tourists”.

New figures show that some hospitals managed to claim back just 10 per cent of monies owing, with leading medics warning that the system is “not working”

Just £35 million out of a £91 million total was reclaimed by the health service for care it provided to citizens from countries not in the  European Economic Area.

The amount billed in 2018-19 is up £4m on 2017-18, while the amount received has increased by just £5m, Health Service Journal said. 

It follows a series of clamp downs aimed to ensure overseas patients pay for their care.

Since 2017, hospitals have had a legal duty to charge overseas patients upfront for non-urgent care if they are not eligible for free treatment.

But many medics are opposed to the policy.

Earlier this year medics at the British Medical Association’s annual conference voted “overwhelmingly” to scrap the rule which they said was racist, insisting ‘We are doctors not border guards”.

Nine of the top 10 hospitals which racked up the most debt were all in London.

Barts Health Trust, which runs St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, invoiced overseas patients for £10.2million worth of NHS treatment last year but only got £1.1m of that paid back.

Why is the NHS under so much pressure?

Imperial College Healthcare Trust billed patients for £6.7m but received just £2.4m. And Guys and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust recouped just £1.5m of the £4.2 mi it was owed. 

John Chisholm, BMA ethics chair said: “The system as it stands is not working and, given the difficulties in recouping charges and assessing a patient’s ability to pay, it is not cost effective or beneficial to the NHS.’

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospitals, said: “Trusts understand that as far as is practicable, these costs should be recovered, and there is evidence that we are seeing improvements in the amount recouped”

A spokesperson from Barts Health NHS Trust said: “We make every effort to recover payment from patients who are liable for the cost of their treatment. However, these patients are not usually resident in the UK and recovering payment is therefore often difficult. 

“In addition, some patients are able to demonstrate their eligibility for treatment after invoices have been issued.”

An NHS Improvement spokesperson said: “The NHS recovered an additional £20m last year from overseas patients compared to two years ago, and continues to provide expert support to trusts to ensure as much money as possible is recovered so it can be reinvested into frontline care for patients.”

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