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Government tackles burden of health tourists on NHS

The Government has announced new measures for dealing with the cost of treating overseas visitors, migrants and health tourists which together will raise or save well over half a billion pounds, it says.

Independent findings from the first comprehensive study of how widely migrants use the NHS, published by the Department of Health, show the major financial costs and disruption for staff which result from a system which will be substantially reformed in the interests of British taxpayers.

The study estimates that £388 million is spent each year on patients who find themselves in need of health care while in England and who should already be paying for their care, but who are often not processed and charged by the NHS. Only around 16% of this figure is currently recovered by the NHS.

In addition, there is a cost of between £70 million and £300 million attached to people who deliberately travel to England to get free NHS treatment – so-called ‘health tourists’ – which could be significantly reduced through better cost recovery and a system deterring abuse.
To tackle these issues the Government is:

  • introducing a new health surcharge in the Immigration Bill – which will generate an estimated £200 million;
  • appointing Sir Keith Pearson as an independent NHS adviser on visitor and migrant cost recovery;
  • identifying a more efficient system of claiming back costs by establishing a cost recovery unit, headed by a Director of Cost Recovery;
  • looking at new incentives so that hospitals report when they have treated someone from the EEA to enable the Government to recover the costs of care from their home country; and
  • introducing a simpler registration process to help identify earlier those patients who should be charged.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “Having a universal health service free at the point of use rightly makes us the envy of the world, but we must make sure the system is fair to the hardworking British taxpayers who fund it. We have one of the most generous systems in the world when it comes to health care for foreign visitors, but it’s time for action to ensure the NHS is a national health service – not an international one.

“With the NHS already under pressure from an ageing population, it cannot be right that large amounts of taxpayers’ money is being lost through treating people who should be paying from foreign countries.

“These independent reports prove this is a serious problem that the Government was right to address. We are confident our new measures will make the NHS fairer and more sustainable for the British families and taxpayers it was set up to serve.”

Sir Keith Pearson, the newly appointed NHS adviser to the visitor and migrant NHS cost recovery programme, who will take forward proposals for changes in the system, said: “I welcome this research as a helpful piece of analysis of the problem. I am confident that we will be able to recover a good proportion of this money.”

Having introduced measures to recover at least £500 million, the Government says it will look to take further steps to recover a larger proportion of the total cost in future.