An investigation by the BBC has revealed that London hospitals are writing off 90 per cent of debt owed by foreign patients who are not entitled to free NHS care.
NHS care is free to everyone who needs emergency treatment, but patients whose normal residence is outside of the EU have to pay for treatment.
A health tourist could be somebody who visits the UK specifically for free health care, or they may already be living here and avoiding the bill.
All hospitals are required to recover money owed for treating these patients. Some hospitals are successfully doing so- West Middlesex Hospital wrote off just 3 per cent of what it was owed.
But figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that in total, £7.6 million owed by foreign patients was written off by NHS trusts in the region since 2009.
According to figures, Newham Hospital wrote off 96 per cent last year of what it had invoiced- £345,000 out of £358,000.
Basildon and Thurrock wrote off 97 per cent of what it was owed- £47,000 out of £48,500. Hillingdon hospital wrote off £335,000 out of £600,000, and South London wrote off £29,000 out of £481,000.
Hospital trusts said that chasing the money was difficult if patients leave the UK, and sums were only written off when all options to pursue it had been exhausted.
But one senior doctor at a large London hospital said the problem of outstanding debt was much bigger than official figures show. He said:
"It is probably about three or four times that figure.”
"These patients probably know somebody in this country. Very often they just take a plane and come to the first A&E department that deals with that type of condition and they know they will be treated because they are very sick."
With the NHS having to make efficiency savings of efficiency savings of £20 billion by 2015, this money is essential to ease the pressure on our struggling NHS.
© ActiveQuote Ltd. 2012