Every day we are reminded by the media how our NHS is struggling through a lack of funds, and yet our hospitals are owed millions of pounds by health tourists. Many of whom are from far richer countries than ours, who have fled this country without paying for their treatment. Many health tourists come to the UK for life saving treatments such as dialysis, bone marrow transplants and chemotherapy and analysis shows that many have subsequently fled the UK owing amounts as high as £100,000 and in one case £420,000. Furthermore not all these treatments can be deemed as lifesaving as in one case there was an outstanding debt of £15,000 for alcoholism which is a completely unacceptable use of our resources. Really there are too many instances for us to quote here. According to information published by the Freedom of Information Act, the Department of Health has said that the annual figure could be as high as £2 BILLION.
In February 2015 the Government first published new rules to improve overseas visitor’s contributions to NHS care, these guidelines to come into effect from April 2015. Accident & Emergency departments and GP surgeries will remain free for all. People living outside the European Economic Area (EEA) including former UK residents should now make sure that they are covered by personal health insurance unless an exception applies to them. Anyone who does not have insurance will be charged at 150% of the NHS national tariff for any care they receive. There are several groups of people who are exempt such as UK Crown Servants, British Council or Commonwealth War Graves Staff. Those who were not ordinarily resident in the UK before taking up these posts will be charged. No charge for Armed forces members, war pensioners, armed forces compensation scheme recipients and their families who are not an ‘ordinary resident’ of the UK. People living in an EEA country or Switzerland will continue to get free NHS care using a European Health Insurance Card issued in their own country. The NHS can reclaim healthcare costs from that country.
Obviously no one is going to turn away a tourist in need of emergency medical attention, but tax payers should be rightly outraged that health tourists are getting away with millions of pounds worth of long term treatment at their expense. If tourists want to make use of the NHS, then they should guarantee payments for that treatment. Hospitals are responsible for checking who should pay. The NHS has become a magnet for people across the globe because it does not turn anyone away. The NHS may be free at the point of delivery but it is not a charity enterprise that is open to anybody from anywhere in the world to come here and use. We all pay or have paid towards our health service on the understanding that it is there when we need it, not that it can be exploited by people from overseas who do not contribute to the system. The open door policy of the EU immigration has driven up the population and put a strain on public services, not least the NHS. Some of us already struggle to see a GP or receive hospital treatment, this situation is not acceptable. Failing to chase up health tourists and making them pay for their treatment is essential, otherwise it will only encourage more people to come here and milk the system. Politicians must acknowledge the true scale of this problem and prevent people receiving free treatment to which they are not entitled. This situation has to stop.
Reply from:- Department of Health
Ministers believe it is fair that people who are in this country for a short time and are not permanent residents here should meet the costs of all NHS treatment they receive whilst in England. The Government’s view is that the health system as it stands is overly generous to those who only have a temporary relationship with the UK, particularly in comparison with what UK residents can expect when they travel abroad. Without restricting access to necessary and urgent NHS treatment, the Government wants everyone to make a fair contribution to the costs of care they receive to ensure the future financial sustainability of the NHS. The NHS is and will remain, free at the point of care for permanent residents of the UK, and will always provide urgent and immediate healthcare to those in need. Ministers are clear that the proposals are not about denying or restricting treatment for those who have an immediate and urgent risk to their health, but about ensuring that the system is fair and consistent and that those who should make a financial contribution do so, just as families living in the UK do through their taxes. As is the case with the current charging regulations in secondary care, any extension of charging will involve the condition that treatment which is considered by clinicians to be immediately necessary (which includes all maternity treatment) must never be withheld from chargeable patients, even if they have not paid in advance. Treatment is not deemed immediately necessary, but is nevertheless classed as urgent by clinicians, since it cannot wait until the overseas visitor can return home, should also be provided, even if payment or a deposit has not been secured. Providers are nonetheless strongly encouraged by the Government to obtain a deposit ahead of treatment that is deemed urgent if circumstances allow. However, if that proves unsuccessful, the treatment should not be delayed or withheld for the purposes of securing payment.
The principle that the NHS is free at the point of delivery for residents will not be undermined by the proposed extension of charging. In relation to secondary care, The Government has widened the circumstances in which the most vulnerable people are not charged for treatment. New exemptions mean that the charges no longer apply in relation to treatment as a consequence of domestic violence, sexual violence, torture or female genital mutilation. A broader range of victims of human trafficking, children looked after by a local authority and Government supported failed asylum seekers are now also exempt from charge. These exemptions are in addition to the continuing protection available for refugees and asylum seekers who are also not charged for NHS healthcare they receive. From 1st February victims of modern slavery have been added as an exempt category. The Government will continue to mitigate any adverse impact these proposals might have on vulnerable groups and take into account the implications for public health and health inequalities. This includes consideration of the needs of those who may not be able to provide evidence of residency (for example the homeless) and might therefore be assumed to be chargeable or might fail to seek necessary care. When drafting its response to the current consultation the Department will undertake an equality analysis to systematically look at the potential impact of the proposals on protected groups. This will be used in developing an implementation plan to ensure, where possible, any disproportionate impacts are mitigated. However there is also a clear commitment for anyone who is chargeable, immediately necessary and urgent treatment will be provided even if payment is not received in full in advance, so anyone in genuine need will be able to receive treatment.