Former NHS cancer surgeon Professor J Meirion Thomas, who has campaigned on health tourism, said he feared officials had given up on tackling the problem
Health tourism is now classified as a low priority for the NHS, despite the issue costing taxpayers millions of pounds.
The shocking decision by officials is the latest alarming indication of how the problem of foreign nationals using the health system fraudulently is being glossed over at the highest levels.
There are 15 ‘risk areas’ identified by NHS England in a recent three-year strategy designed to crack down on fraud – but health tourism is the only one not classed as a medium or high priority.
The assessment comes after NHS officials declared health tourism was costing just £35 million a year – despite Government-commissioned research concluding that it could cost almost ten times that amount.
Earlier this year, The Mail on Sunday revealed how Ministers caved in to Corbynite medics, by abandoning checks meant to ensure that all hospital patients are eligible for free NHS care.
Ministers decided not to roll out the plan after Left-wing doctors, nurses and campaigners sabotaged efforts to ask all hospital patients for proof that they lived permanently in the UK and so were entitled to free care.
They printed posters urging resistance to what they described as the Government’s ‘far-Right policies’ and produced a ‘toolkit’ to help NHS workers end immigration checks and upfront charging.
The admission that health tourism is a low priority is made in an NHS England document called Tackling Fraud, Bribery And Corruption – Economic Crime Strategy 2018-2021 [File photo]
In August, we also reported how the NHS had failed to recover nearly three-quarters of all £10,000-plus invoices billed to health tourists.
Last night, former NHS cancer surgeon Professor J Meirion Thomas, who has campaigned on health tourism, said he feared officials had given up on tackling the problem.
He added: ‘The £35 million figure is a gross underestimate of the cost of health tourism.’
He cited former Home Office Minister Lord Bates, who told the Lords in 2016 that the total cost to the NHS of treating visitors and temporary migrants ‘had been estimated at £2 billion year in 2013’.
Prof Thomas went on: ‘The NHS has been negligent and incompetent at tackling health tourism despite the fact that it amounts to fraud on the British taxpayer.’
The admission that health tourism is a low priority is made in an NHS England document called Tackling Fraud, Bribery And Corruption – Economic Crime Strategy 2018-2021.
There are 15 ‘risk areas’ identified by NHS England in a recent three-year strategy designed to crack down on fraud – but health tourism is the only one not classed as a medium or high priority [File photo]
It identifies 15 risk areas, such as prescription fraud, patient dental fraud, pharmacists and dentists claiming for work they have not done, and cyber crime.
Each is assigned a priority for future action. Patient prescription fraud, where potentially £256 million is lost annually, is given a high priority, as is fraud by dentists, where £88 million goes missing.
Ten of the 15 areas are classed as high and four as medium priority. But only one – referred to as patient fraud (general practice) – has been given a low priority.
Despite its vague title, it refers to health tourism, and the document says an estimated £35 million is lost annually.
The figure is derived from research commissioned by the Health Department in 2015, which concluded that health tourism was costing the NHS between £70 million and £300 million annually.
The shocking decision by officials is the latest alarming indication of how the problem of foreign nationals using the health system fraudulently is being glossed over at the highest levels [File photo]
However, officials at the NHS Counter Fraud Authority (NHSCFA) chose to take the lowest end of that range – then halve it.
An assessment in May by the NHSCFA stated: ‘The Department of Health and Social Care commissioned research which identified that the estimated cost from health tourism was £70 million to £300 million annually. The NHSCFA assess 50 per cent of the lower estimate could be lost to fraudulent activity, a total of £35 million.’
The Mail on Sunday asked NHS England and NHSCFA for comment, but both failed to respond.
The Health Department said: ‘All NHS trusts must charge overseas visitors for the care – unless an exemption applies – and rigorously pursue any outstanding bills.
‘We have made good progress, recovering £1.3 billion, and we recently announced a £1 million boost to expand a team of experts to ensure that cost-recovery rules are applied.’
NHS England said that fraud losses relating to health tourism were not borne directly by the organisation ‘so therefore [it] was not a priority in the our strategy’.
The spokeswoman added: ‘The NHS is stamping down on fraud in whatever form it takes.’