The NHS has failed to recover the costs of almost three-quarters of the largest bills run up by ineligible foreign health tourists, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
And an investigation has established that the Health Service has simply written off a quarter of all the bills for more than £10,000 sent out over the past five years.
The figures make a mockery of repeated Government attempts to crack down on the scandal which is estimated to cost the NHS up to £280 million a year.
It comes just weeks after the British Medical Association voted overwhelmingly to stop billing foreign patients for NHS care after Left-wing doctors argued the practice was ‘racist’.
As campaigners last night urged the NHS to get a grip on the problem, the scale of non-payment was described as a disgrace.
Campaigners from Docs Not Cops march to St Thomas’s Hospital to protest against the Government’s scheme to require NHS trusts to check patients’ identification before giving them treatment
‘This is an insult to those working hard in the UK who pay their taxes to fund our NHS,’ said Tory MP Andrew Percy.
‘Those workers can’t get away with not paying their bills, so why should people from overseas who aren’t entitled to free hospital care be allowed to get away with not paying?
‘Worse still, the BMA and some doctors defend these debt-dodgers who deny the NHS money that should be going to support patients here in the UK.’
Our investigation found:
- A single patient ran up a bill of £419,934 at a hospital in Birmingham, but the NHS has recovered nothing;
‘This is an insult to those working hard in the UK who pay their taxes to fund our NHS,’ said Tory MP Andrew Percy (pictured)
- Scores of patients have failed to pay a penny towards care costing £100,000 or more, including 14 at one hospital alone;
- A man from the oil-rich United Arab Emirates received a £120,000 kidney transplant courtesy of the NHS, which he has not paid for;
- A Midlands hospital trust has failed to recover costs from patients from 26 foreign countries, including Canada and China;
John O’Connell, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said that taxpayers feel the NHS system is abused by overseas patients
- Pregnant ‘students’ and migrants with chronic health problems are flying to Britain and paying a health surcharge for as little as £300 to access care worth thousands.
The findings come two months after we revealed how much-publicised plans to routinely check whether or not patients are eligible for ‘free’ non-emergency hospital care had been quietly shelved after a backlash from Left-wing activists and medics. To be eligible, patients have to live permanently in the UK.
At the time, Government officials said the focus of efforts had shifted from checking patients to recouping cash from those already billed.
In response, The Mail on Sunday asked each of England’s 148 hospital trusts to provide data on all invoices worth £10,000 or more that had been presented to overseas visitor patients in the last five years.
That same month, June, delegates at the BMA’s annual conference passed a motion proposing that it was ‘not cost-effective to monitor eligibility for NHS care’ and calling for ‘the policy of charging migrants for NHS care to be abandoned’.
During the debate, Dr Omar Risk said: ‘Charging migrants for accessing NHS services is a fundamentally racist endeavour.’
Revealed: The visas that grant access to all NHS services – for £300 a year
A flagship scheme under which temporary migrants can pay as little as £300 a year for full NHS care is being routinely abused, according to a Health Service whistleblower.
Foreign nationals with chronic conditions such as renal failure are using the Immigration Health Surcharge to access treatment that would otherwise cost them tens of thousands of pounds, the insider claimed.
Young pregnant women on student visas also use the IHS to benefit from an NHS birth worth up to £14,000.
The IHS – which costs £400 or £300 for students – was introduced four years ago to ensure migrants make a financial contribution to the cost of their NHS care.
While it works like health insurance, there is no vetting and pre-existing conditions are not excluded – leaving it open to exploitation.
The whistleblower, who works as an NHS ‘overseas visitor manager’, said: ‘Where else in the world can you buy yearly healthcare… for a few hundred pounds? The result shouldn’t really be a surprise. My colleagues and I suspect our hospital has treated dozens of patients in the last year with expensive, long-term conditions who have entered the UK principally to access NHS treatments by paying the surcharge – and we’re just one hospital out of hundreds.
‘Dialysis is one area where this is happening. Imagine you have renal issues, need dialysis three times a week, but live in a country with poor healthcare. If you have relatives in Britain, you can get a family visa, pay the IHS, and for £400 a year get ongoing treatment to the tune of about £1,000 a week.’
She added: ‘We see young women on student visas who were clearly pregnant well before they got here. When we ask, ‘Are you attending college?’ they say, ‘No, because I’m pregnant.’
Until January, the IHS was £200 a year and £150 for students. The cost doubled after officials calculated ‘the NHS spends £470 on average per person per year on treating surcharge payers’.
The IHS must be paid by most non-EU nationals who want to stay here for more than six months. It gives them free NHS treatment for the duration of their stay.
The Health Department says it has helped raise hundreds of millions for the NHS.
And London GP Dr Jackie Applebee, a socialist activist who has led local opposition to patient checks, said the cost of health tourism was ‘peanuts in the grand scheme of things’.
Yet at the same meeting, members of the doctors’ union complained about how ‘recent past, present and future underfunding’ had left ambitions to improve the NHS ‘largely unachievable’.
Of the 148 trusts approached, 83 provided information relating to 1,785 invoices exceeding £10,000 issued in the five years to April 2019.
The total value is £46.6 million, but this is likely to account for only around a third of the totals billed by these trusts because most bills are for three and four-figure sums and the average charge is around £3,000.
Given the lack of data from 65 trusts, the figure is likely to be far higher. London’s Barts Health NHS Trust, which did not respond, last year revealed that it alone was owed £20 million in unpaid overseas visitor bills.
Analysis of the full requested itemised billing and repayment information provided by 77 trusts shows just 29 per cent of invoices over £10,000 have been paid in full, or nearly full; 25 per cent have been written off totally or substantially; and 46 per cent remain entirely or largely unpaid.
The responses – obtained under the Freedom of Information Act – also show that health tourism is not confined to maternity wards, as often assumed, but widespread across hospital departments including surgery, stroke care, cardiology, neurosurgery, renal care, haematology and orthopaedics.
Last night, John O’Connell, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: ‘British taxpayers pay huge amounts for the NHS and many feel the system is used and abused by overseas patients.
‘Specialist treatments are expensive and people are travelling from all over the world to access them. Some trusts are becoming soft touches with taxpayers’ cash.
‘Ministers are right to be getting a grip on this issue. Healthcare bosses must make sure they are only treating eligible patients, and chasing down unpaid bills.
‘When Brits go on holiday, most make sure they have health insurance in case of accidents – it’s not asking too much to demand the same for visitors to the UK.’
The Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘Taxpayers make significant contributions to the Health Service and so it is only right that overseas visitors contribute to their treatment.
‘NHS trusts are obliged to charge overseas visitors for the care they receive in England.
‘We’ve made good progress in the last few years, with more than £1 billion recovered to be reinvested into frontline services.’
Corbynista doctors who claim asking for money is racist
Socialist doctors are doing all they can to stop overseas patients being charged for NHS hospital care.
A group called Docs Not Cops produced posters urging resistance to what it called ‘far Right policies’, and of a tethered pregnant woman stating: ‘No borders in maternity care – take your racism elsewhere!’
In its poster, above, allied group Patients Not Passports urged NHS workers to ‘challenge staff you see asking a patient for ID’, and make formal complaints if they believe that ‘harm or discrimination might have occurred’ – which could include a patient being told they will be billed.
London GP Jackie Applebee wrote to the Barts Health NHS Trust claiming eligibility checks were ‘bringing Border Control into our NHS, and destroying [it] as a universal service, free at the point of use’.
But another GP, George Rae warned: ‘NHS funding is not infinite… we will open the door to more people.
The message from the BMA is, ‘Come to the UK, get on the plane, get on the boat… you will get treatment on the NHS for nothing.’
But at the BMA conference Dr Applebee, who proposed the motion to abolish foreign patient charges, said there was ‘no evidence the NHS is going to become the SOS for the whole world’. She added: ‘We are a rich country – we can afford this.’
Astonishing litany of six-figure NHS bills all left unpaid- including the Birmingham hospital owed £419,934 thanks to a man from the UAE who got a £120,000 kidney transplant for FREE
By Stephen Adams for the Mail on Sunday
The Mail on Sunday has unearthed a litany of astonishing cases where six-figure bills for NHS treatment have gone unpaid by foreign patients not entitled to free care.
Until now, such examples were thought to be rare, but our investigation has forced NHS trusts to divulge that the full scale is far greater than previously imagined.
- Breathtaking cases of unpaid bills at Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in Birmingham include a mystery patient who racked up £419,933.68.
The sum is equivalent to the income tax paid by 123 average workers in a year.
Two years on, nothing has been paid back.
University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust refused to say what the bill was for, or where the patient was from.
Other huge bills at QEH include £205,751.55 in 2016, £276,789.54 in 2017 – both written off – and £233,718.55 in 2019, for which nothing has been paid back.
There heave been breathtaking cases of unpaid bills at Queen Elizabeth Hospital (file photo) in Birmingham including a mystery patient who racked up £419,933.68
In all, QEH has invoiced 14 overseas visitor patients more than £100,000 since April 2014, and on every occasion, not a penny has been recouped.
Five were written off while nine remain outstanding. The trust said it would ‘pursue all reasonable avenues to recover debts’.
Bills could be written off if the patient has died, was ‘a destitute illegal migrant’ or ‘is genuinely without access to funds’.
- One bill for critical care at Pennine Acute Trust in Manchester came to £335,850.46. To date, £2.469.14 has been paid back. The trust would provide no other details about the patient.
Critical care covers ‘life threatening, but treatable conditions, such as patients who have had a serious accident, heart attack, stroke or sepsis’, said a spokesman.
He added that the trust had a process to ‘maximise the income we can recover from overseas patients who are not entitled to free NHS services’.
There have been nine cases at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London (file photo), the NHS’s world-leading heart and lung centre, where £100,000-plus bills have gone unpaid
- There have been nine cases at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, the NHS’s world-leading heart and lung centre, where £100,000-plus bills have gone unpaid.
These included three cases of paediatric cardiac surgery or transplantation – one for a boy from outside Europe totalling £268,741.59, which was written off.
A spokesman said: ‘If someone who is not entitled to NHS care is transferred to our hospitals requiring urgent, necessary treatment, we would never refuse them.
‘Like other NHS organisations, we take a variety of steps to recover the costs of medical treatment and in many cases are successful.’
Unlike some other NHS trusts, the Royal Brompton provided full details to our enquiry. In four £100,000-plus cases, debts have been repaid.
- An elderly man from the oil-rich United Arab Emirates received a new kidney at University Hospitals of Coventry & Warwickshire in 2015-16, with his total bill coming to £119,817.02. It remains unpaid.
A Singaporean man was billed £197,888.76 for intensive care and rehabilitation – after he absconded following treatment at Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro (file photo)
A UHCW spokesman said it was ‘unable to comment on specific cases’ but there were ‘a wide variety of reasons as to why we may not be able to collect payment’.
- A Singaporean man was billed £197,888.76 for intensive care and rehabilitation – after he absconded following treatment.
The ‘gravely ill’ man travelled to Britain specifically for help at Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro, said an NHS spokeswoman, where he ‘spent over 12 months taking advantage of NHS services’.
Specialists saved his life. He gave the impression that he was resettling in the UK, and therefore qualified for free care, but then discharged himself and flew home.
‘We are dismayed by this abuse of NHS resources and are continuing to pursue payment of the bill for treatment,’ she said.