UK cracks down on “health tourism” abuses


Foreigners who abuse the NHS by coming to the UK for treatment as “health tourists” then leaving without paying the costs are to be banned from returning to Britain.

The crackdown on the scandal comes after it emerged that the health service has lost more than £32million in two years to foreigners who received NHS care but refused to pay their bills.

Those from abroad who owe more than £1,000 for treatment they received in the UK will be barred from entering the country again.

Doctors will be required to give a foreign patient’s details to officials if they think they should be charged for their care.

Ministers say the scheme will cover up to 94 per cent of the people who currently owe money to the NHS.

Many doctors had warned that the proposed rules could jeopardise their confidential relationship with patients and could deter some illegal immigrants from seeking care.

But the Government has dismissed their objections, saying that NHS bodies have a legal obligation to recoup money owed to them.

Currently anyone visiting this country is entitled to free emergency care. But those from outside the EU are supposed to pay for further treatment such as chemotherapy or non-urgent surgery.

However, many do go on to receive follow-up treatment and then leave without settling their bills.

Last month it emerged that one American had received more than £100,000 of care for pneumonia but had left and never paid the bill. Immigration Minister Damian Green said: “The NHS is a national health service, not an international one. If someone does not pay for their treatment we will not let them back into the country.”

Foreign patients receiving free treatment from GPs or other primary care organisations will not be included because this is “too complex”. Failed asylum seekers will also be exempt.

And the Department of Health admits it will still be down to hospitals to decide if a patient can afford to pay for treatment. If they think the patient cannot, the debt will be written off.

Ministers, however, are considering introducing a requirement that anyone applying for a UK visa has health insurance.

Charlotte Linacre, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “It’s absolutely right that visitors should be asked to pay for treatment.

“Of course emergency care should never be refused but the NHS can’t afford to give unfunded treatment every time.”

The amount of time Britons can spend abroad while remaining entitled to NHS care is to increase.

At the moment, people who live away for more than three months each year lose their right to free treatment.

This is being raised to six months.