Over the last four years the NHS has lost a minimum of £40 million as a result of health tourism from overseas visitors. The Health Minister Anna Soubry has admitted that the current system in place to identify those who are not entitled to receive free treatment on the NHS isn’t perfect. The current system requires that hospitals in both England and Wales have been living in the UK for at least twelve months.
A BBC investigation discovered that of the 133 of hospitals that responded to their study stated that they do not run the checks. Freedom of Information requests were used to discover that the hospitals that had provided treatment to overseas visitors had amounted to over £40 million worth of free treatment. Some believe this figure is just the tip of the iceberg when considering the overall cost of treating visitors who should not be receiving medical treatment.
The investigation discovered some startling practices with medical treatment and referrals, where access to GPs and hospital care was being fraudulently bought and sold to those without access. In one instance a practice manager was selling places at a GP surgery for up to £800 a patient. A reporter managed to register through these techniques and then managed to obtain an MRI scan freely at the local hospital. Since the report, the practice manager has been removed from their position by the Primary Care Trust. Similar tests were conducted across a number of other areas that allowed access to medical treatment by using fake identities.
Jim Gee, who was the former head of NHS Protect – the department in charge of tackling fraudulent practices within the NHS, stated that the current system across hospitals is ‘unworkable’. According to Gee, the difficulty comes through the use of ‘ordinarily resident’ which is what needs to be satisfied for people to be entitled for free healthcare from the NHS. The difficulty comes in implementing this policy, for instance, if a patient has been referred by a GP, hospitals will generally assume that the patient qualifies for free healthcare.
Ms Soubry has admitted that the current system has its failings and is flawed, and that an ongoing government review is being conducted on how to determine a person’s eligibility to NHS care. Guidance from the Department of Health has been issued to Primary Care Trust’s to say that overseas visitors, regardless of if they are lawfully in the UK or not, are eligible to register with a GP surgery. GPs have been told not to turn down patients regardless of whether they have identification or a proof of address.
Dr Chris Clayton-Payne, a GP from Saffron Walden stated that he believes it’s very strange that whilst the NHS is striving to make huge cost savings and efficiencies yet they are ‘opening the door wide to the citizens of the world to walk in and have free medical care at primary care level in the UK’.
Gareth writes on behalf of AXA PPP healthcare who provide medical insurance for both individuals and businesses at home and abroad.