An investigation has found that the overseas patients have left the NHS with an unpaid bill of almost £30 million in just one year.
MPs have warned that the system for recovering cash from overseas patients who use the National Health Service is "chaotic" and costing millions. MPs were "not confident” that the Department of Health is taking any effective action to recover charges from overseas patients who leave the NHS with unpaid bills after medical treatment. They urged the Government to "get a grip" on the issue.
Currently, some treatments such as GP appointments and accident and emergency care, are free to all patients and some patients, such as refugees and those applying for asylum, are exempt from medical charges. In other cases, statutory regulations need hospital trusts to make and recover charges in respect of the fee of treating overseas patients. Most hospital care is chargeable.
Public Accounts Committee report states that if the NHS does not recover the price of treating patients who are not eligible to free care, then there is less money available to treat other people and even more pressure on NHS finances.
MPs from the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said that the NHS was failing to recognise chargeable patients, whereas the Government was also failing to get money back from European countries where mutual contracts are in place.
In 2014/15, the UK government recovered only £50 million from overseas patients but paid out £675 million. By 2017/18 the Government has a goal to recover up to £500 million a year from all overseas patients, though it is widely expected to miss this.
The Labour and Co-operative MP and chairwoman of PAC, Meg Hillier said that the Government's failure on retrieving the costs of treating overseas patients is depriving the NHS of vital funds.
The chair of BMA council, Dr Mark Porter said any charging systems should not inhibit sick and vulnerable patients from receiving proper care, otherwise there may be serious consequences for their health and that of the public in general.
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