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Health tourism ‘costing NHS £150m in unpaid bills’

One south London hospital is owed £28.3m

Overseas patients have left the NHS with more than £150m in unpaid bills for treatment, an investigation suggests.

Freedom of information requests by the Daily Mail found King’s College Hospital in south London is owed £28.3m from foreign patients for treatment in the last few years.

In east London, Barts Health Trust is chasing £27.8m of unpaid bills, including £467,000 from one patient.

Overall, 23 NHS organisations across England are owed at least £1m from foreign patients.

Responses from 91 hospital trusts show they are owed £149.5m, but the true cost may more because around a third of trusts did not provide details.

In addition, the figures only account for those patients flagged up as an overseas visitor who were charged for their care.

Many others may have had free treatment as staff presumed they were UK residents, or chose to turn a blind eye, the newspaper claimed.

MPs said the £150m owed by overseas patients could be used to pay for social care, additional frontline staff or vital treatment such as cataract surgery.

Philip Hollobone, Tory MP for Kettering, said: “Well-paid NHS bosses who fail to charge visitors for using our health service should have action taken against them. That £150m could go a very long way in paying for thousands more doctors, nurses and badly needed healthcare.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said all NHS trusts must charge overseas visitors for the care they receive, unless an exemption applies, and to rigorously pursue any outstanding bills.