Around three quarters of the largest bills run up by ineligible foreign health tourists remain unpaid, an investigation has found.
The Mail on Sunday asked each of England’s 148 hospital trusts to provide data on all invoices worth £10,000 or more that had been presented to overseas visitor patients in the last five years.
Analysis of the full requested itemised billing and repayment information provided by 77 trusts found just 29% of invoices over £10,000 have been paid in full or nearly full, 25% have been written off totally or substantially, while 46% remain entirely or largely unpaid.
Health tourism is estimated to cost the NHS up to £280m a year.
John O’Connell, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said many British taxpayers feel the system is used and abused by overseas patients.
“Specialist treatments are expensive and people are travelling from all over the world to access them. Some trusts are becoming soft touches with taxpayers’ cash,” he argued.
The Department of Health and Social Care said taxpayers make significant contributions to the health service and so it is only right that overseas visitors contribute to their treatment. “NHS trusts are obliged to charge overseas visitors for the care they receive in England,” it added. “We’ve made good progress in the last few years, with more than £1bn recovered to be reinvested into frontline services.”