Matt Hancock says NHS 'will not revert to before' the pandemic
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This is despite government pledges to crack down on patients who fly to the UK specifically to use the free health service. Figures show debts have soared in the past year, with some hospital trusts millions of pounds out of pocket after writing off bills for care they gave to people not entitled to free NHS treatment. Last year the amount of bad debts and claims that were binned amounted to £30million, up from £27million in 2018 and £16million in 2017.
King’s College Hospital Trust in London had £15.4million of unpaid debt on its books. But experts think the NHS total could be as high as £300million – because it only counts cases where invoices were generated.
In many instances officials would not have issued a bill because they realised there was never any prospect of it being paid.
From October 2017 providers of NHS treatment were required to make sure patients in England are eligible for free care – and to charge them up front if not.
This was to ensure administrators didn’t have the time-consuming job of chasing them for payment afterwards.
Patients needing emergency care were to be invoiced.
Health tourists have racked up millions in debt over three years (Image: Getty)
Patients needing emergency care were to be invoiced for NHS support (Image: Getty)
The Government was confident the scheme would net an extra £500million for the NHS.
But a National Audit Office report said the money raised would fall far short of that.
The issue of foreign patients being unable to pay for their care was highlighted in a BBC documentary called Hospital, where a Nigerian woman was treated as an emergency case at St Mary’s A&E, in London.
The woman ran up a £330,000 bill for NHS treatment after she gave birth prematurely to quadruplets in the hospital.
She had been taken ill on a flight from the US to Nigeria via Heathrow. The mother needed intensive care treatment costing thousands of pounds a day for her newborn quadruplets.
A pregnant woman on a flight to Nigeria needed emergency NHS care (Image: Getty)
James Roberts, political director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “British taxpayers pay huge amounts for the NHS and don’t want to see it used and abused by overseas patients.
“Foreign freeloaders cannot be allowed to travel from all over the world to access treatments without paying their way. NHS bosses have to get a grip.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We have strengthened the rules so that NHS care must be paid for in advance of providing non-urgent treatment. Any debts that do arise from providing urgent care are pursued, with new visas normally refused if unpaid.
“We are working with a team of experts in the NHS to help hospitals better apply cost recovery regulations, with over £1.5billion identified since 2015 to go back into frontline services.”
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