Health trusts to get tough on foreign health ‘tourists’

Wigan Infirmary
Wigan Infirmary

PATIENTS from outside the EU visiting Wigan hospitals are to be charged 150 per cent of the cost of treatment in the NHS in a fresh crackdown on so-called “health tourism”.

The move is designed to incentivise NHS Trusts, including Wrightington Wigan Leigh NHS Foundation Trust, (WWL) to recover the cost of operations from migrants and others.

In the past year, WWL has had 33 referrals of suspected fraud and 72 referrals of suspected fraud by potential overseas visitors. Appropriate sanctions including criminal prosecutions have been taken where fraud has been proved, during the last year.

So far this year the trust has been able to recover nearly £32,000 of fraudulently obtained money.

The UK seeks to reclaim 100 per cent of the cost of treating EU and non-EU nationals where charges are applicable.

But only a fraction of the £460m in chargeable procedures performed every year is currently recovered.

Most foreign migrants and overseas visitors can currently get free NHS care immediately or soon after arrival in the UK but they are expected to repay the cost of most procedures afterwards. The charges are based on the standard tariff for a range of procedures, ranging from about £1,860 for cataract surgery to about £8,570 for a hip replacement.

WWL say they are committed to the NHS counter fraud strategy, which aims to reduce fraud to an absolute minimum, keep it there permanently, enabling us to target more NHS resources at providing better patient care.

From next year, WWL will be able to charge 150 per cent of the normal cost of treatment for non-EU patients who are “non-permanent residents” in the UK.

Under these plans, non-EU patients receiving a £100 procedure could get a bill of up to £150.

Non-UK citizens who are lawfully entitled to reside in the UK and usually live in the country will be entitled to free NHS care as they are now.

But temporary migrants from outside Europe who are in the UK for longer than six months, either to work or study, will have to pay a new surcharge when they submit an application for leave to enter or remain in the UK.

WWL director of finance, Rob Forster said: “All NHS trusts have a legal obligation to establish if a person is an overseas visitor, if they are, we have a moral and ethical obligation to recoup the costs back to the trust.”.