Free-loading foreigners in £70m NHS rip-off: After treatment they fly home without paying

FREELOADING foreign patients owe taxpayers almost ­£70million in unpaid NHS bills, it emerged yesterday.
Campaigners reacted with fury at the huge sum hospitals have been forced to write off over the past decade.

Health service finance chiefs have little chance of tracing foreign patients who fly home ­without paying.

And there is evidence the problem is growing. Almost a third of the total, £25million, has been lost in the past two years alone.

Officials warn that the figures are only the “tip of the iceberg” and the real total debt from health tourism will be much higher. Tory MP Stephen Barclay, who uncovered the figures, said: “Taxpayers support the principle of a healthcare service free at the point of access. But they support a national service, not an international service.”

Free NHS hospital treatment is available to British residents. Overseas patients are charged the full cost of any treatment they receive unless a specific exemption applies.

Urgent treatment is always available to overseas visitors, regardless of their residence status or ability to pay, but non-urgent treatment is not supposed to go ahead without the NHS first receiving payment.

The Government recently announced plans to tighten the rules to prevent “inappropriate” access to free hospital treatment by foreign visitors.

Matthew Sinclair, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Any foreigner needing emergency NHS care while in Britain should get treatment, but British taxpayers should not be underwriting an international health service.

“Anyone from overseas using our scarce resources for non-emergency treatment should pay for it.

“The authorities must do more to ensure sufficient checks are in place to stop the system being abused.”

Last August a Nigerian woman ­– worried about care standards in her own country – flew from Lagos to Manchester to give birth then returned home owing £10,000 to the NHS.

Two midwives, two urology consultants, a radiology consultant, two obstetric consultants and two anaesthetists helped deliver a healthy baby by emergency caesarean. Two years ago, another Nigerian mother, Bimbo ­Ayelabola, 35, flew to Britain when she learnt she was pregnant with quintuplets. Her babies were born by caesarean and cared for at Homerton Hospital, in Hackney, east London, at an estimated cost of £200,000.

The woman, who is married to a wealthy businessman, is thought to be still in the UK fighting deportation.

Another case involved a foreign patient who fled after receiving treatment worth £502,815 at Barts Health NHS Trust in London.

The figures released by the Department of Health showed that in 2003, the NHS in England and Wales wrote off £2.1million in unpaid bills.