Health tourists cost the NHS £24 million
The government is cracking down on so-called 'health tourism' after a report revealed that the NHS is struggling with a £24 million unpaid bill from people who travel from abroad to use the UK's free healthcare services.
An investigation by the Mail on Sunday claims £77 of every £100 spent on foreign health tourists is not paid back.
According to the NHS, most of these people were in the UK on holiday, on business or to study when they received treatment.
The newspaper reports that six hospital trusts in London are owed more than £1 million and other hospitals also have unpaid health tourism debts of more than £100,000. The total sum owed by overseas patients in the UK has doubled in the past 12 months, with the bill estimated at over £24million in just one year.
Loopholes allowing foreigners to "wrongly access free UK health care" are expected to be targeted by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Proposals include linking patient's NHS number to their immigration status.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister David Cameron promised tighter controls to limit immigrants' access to the NHS, saying, "What we have is a free National Health Service not a free International Health Service".
However, the International Medical Travel Journal (IMJ) reports that the prime minister had to do U-turn after being informed that it is impractical and possibly illegal to get harassed and overbusy A and E staff to check paperwork. He said there were no plans to change the universal right to treatment in casualty.
The IMJ points out that trying to restrict treatment for citizens of any other EU country would also be a breach of EU rules.