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Health tourists cost NHS millions

4th October 2012

The cost of health tourism to the NHS has been revealed after an investigation.

Pound Coins

The probe, by the BBC, has suggested that the health service lost £40m in four years by failing to identify so-called “health tourists” accessing hospital care.

Government ministers have admitted that the system for identifying those who are not entitled to free care was complex and flawed.

To qualify for free care on the NHS, patients must have lived in the UK for a year but 45 out of 133 hospitals in England and Wales who were questioned admitted they did not check and between them had written off £40m in losses.

During the six-month investigation into the issue by the BBC, evidence was uncovered of a black market in medical referrals and treatment in which access to GPs and hospital care was being fraudulently bought and sold.

The former head of an NHS initiative to combat fraud within the health service said the current system in hospitals was unworkable while a retired NHS overseas manager said that in many cases hospitals assume that patients referred by NHS GP surgeries qualify for free care.

Health Minister Anna Soubry conceded that the current guidance is complex and the system had failures and is flawed and that a government review of how to determine NHS eligibility is trying to address the shortcomings.

Department of Health guidance says overseas visitors are eligible to register with a GP practice, and GPs should not turn patients down, even if they fail to provide identification or proof of address.

 

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