Hospitals crackdown on the health tourists Oneyear residency rule to end 40m NHS scam
Hospitals crackdown on the health tourists Oneyear residency rule to end 40m NHS scam

Patients are having to prove they are entitled to free NHS care when they go to hospital in a crackdown on health tourism
They are asked for evidence showing they have lived in Britain for at least a year by producing bills pay slips or bank statements
The oneyear rule has existed for many years but has clearly not been effectively enforced

The scheme has been introduced to identify foreign patients who try to get free care on the NHS despite not being eligible
Doctors and nurses at Southend University Hospital in Essex ask all patients coming in for the first time whether they have lived in the country for at least a year
Health Minister Simon Burns pictured last year revealed that health tourists have taken at least pound35million of free treatment over the last eight years

That is the sum health service bosses have written off after foreign patients came to the UK for treatment and left without paying
The Department of Health is still trying to recover millions more from thousands of others who have abused British hospitality so the real figure could be far higher
Entitlement to free NHS hospital treatment is based on a patient being ordinarily resident in the UK
Anyone else will be charged for the full cost of any treatment they receive unless an exemption applies to the particular therapy

While treatment in an accident and emergency department is automatically free to all emergency care elsewhere is not
However urgent treatment such as maternity care will always be given regardless of residence status or ability to pay afterwards
UK Border Agency officials see 150 cases a year at Gatwick Airport of heavily pregnant passengers arriving with visitor visas
Last year the Home Office and Department of Health admitted the existing system is still too complex generous and inconsistently applied
They promised stricter checks to make sure the details of overseas patients are properly recorded so hospitals can recover any debt
Also those visitors who have run up pound1000 or more in medical debts will not be allowed back into the country
They may also double check by going back through medical records of previous treatment
And if staff are still suspicious they will ask patients to provide proof of address
Julie Alabaster private and business manager at Southend hospital said the expansion of the nearby airport and coastal port could lead to an increase in the number of health tourists
She added We know that people wont always tell the truth and we wont be able to capture everyone
But we need to be doing everything we can to get money back from patients who are not entitled to NHS treatment for free
She said those who were ineligible for free treatment would be asked to pay by cash or via a chip and pin machine brought to their beds
The trust is owed pound64913 by health tourists
But many trusts are out of pocket by far more including St Georges in South London which is owed pound2million
Tory MP Chris Skidmore who has been exposing the cost of health tourists to the NHS said This is a very sensible idea for which the hospital should be commended
All NHS trusts should be applying this test which should be rolled out nationally
We need to get a grip on the issue of foreign nationals abusing the NHS it is a national health service not an international one
Similar schemes have also been introduced at The Hillingdon Hospitals Foundation Trust in West London East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust and Epsom and St Helier NHS Trust in Surrey
Last month figures obtained by Pulse magazine through freedom of information requests showed that hospitals were owed an average of pound230000 from health tourists
Yet despite the crackdown on health tourists it has also emerged that some doctors have been threatened with legal action if they do not treat illegal immigrants
One surgery in Essex was recently told by human rights lawyers they would be taken to court if they refused to add a group of failed asylum seekers to their books
A spokesman for the Department of Health said Hospitals have a legal duty to recover any charges made to overseas patients
We have changed the immigration rules so that anyone with an unpaid debt to the NHS of pound1000 or more can be refused a new visa

Date : 29 May, 2012
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