Travel insurer denies allegations it refused medical flights to save money

A major travel insurance provider has denied allegations it refused to pay for emergency medical flights to save money.

Travel Insurance Facilities, which is behind a number of popular insurance brands such as pharmacist Boots, is being investigated for medical negligence and fraud, according to The Times.

The newspaper reported that the General Medical Council (GMC) is examining at least five cases involving two doctors at the insurer over accusations that policyholders were being denied suitable care.

It also stated that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is investigating the firm over a series of allegations, including that it went against the advice of treating doctors to fly patients home, denied recovering patients suitable aftercare and avoided contact with treating doctors.

The Times reported one case in which a customer who suffered a broken neck in a riding accident in Spain was forced to travel back to the UK over land because a medical flight was not authorised by Travel Insurance Facilities.

A 40,000-word dossier sent to the FCA includes the testimony of a former claims handler at the company who said its strategy was to leave patients without contact so they would “either give up or pay for the treatment themselves, therefore saving the company money”, according to the newspaper.

In a statement, the insurer insisted that “we wholly deny the very serious allegations”.

It went on: “We strongly refute any suggestion that financial considerations would influence in any way our decisions.”

The firm said that when people fall ill abroad their “first instinct” is to want to come home, but this “may not be what is best for them in medical terms”.

It added: “We advise on the safest course of action in the specific circumstances of every case.”

The statement noted that the GMC is obliged to investigate complaints “regardless of the accuracy or validity of the claim” and pledged to “always cooperate” with the medical council.

The GMC said it was “not able to confirm whether we are investigating individual doctors” unless they have been suspended or placed under special conditions following a tribunal hearing.

The FCA declined to comment.