W2W - cost of health tourism

HEALTH tourists have come under increasing scrutiny and criticism.

These are people who come to the UK to abuse the system intentionally.

It’s estimated they cost the NHS up to £280 million a year.

A further £1.8 billion is spent on other foreign visitors, only £500 million of which is recoverable.

The Department of Health says that the NHS is the ‘national’ and not the ‘international’ health service.

It’s determined that, like the British taxpayer, overseas visitors must make a fair contribution.

The problem is defining who is entitled to free NHS care.

There are many grey areas, including British citizens who live abroad, but still have GP registrations and return for free treatment.

However, those deemed ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK are eligible, whatever their origin.

So, too, are EU citizens covered by the European Health Insurance Card, which allows health trusts to charge their home governments directly.

With the NHS increasingly under pressure, it’s not surprising that a new poll shows that 74 per cent of us support the move to charge overseas’ users.

In a step in the right direction, from April foreign patients will be refused non-urgent NHS hospital treatment unless their costs are covered in advance.

However, it’s easier said than done.

In a damning report last week, the Parliamentary Public Accounts’ Committee said that attempts to recover money owed had so far been chaotic.

Meanwhile, many hospitals have already started scrutinising their patients more carefully, including St George’s in London.

Dorset County Hospital has done likewise, recovering £70,000 this year and £49,000 last year.

Their sensible view is that we need a single document which proves entitlement to free NHS services.

Every penny counts and we’re at last moving in the right direction.