Health boards in Scotland are missing out on potentially hundreds of thousands of pounds by not claiming back money due for treating non-European citizens, a Holyrood committee has heard.
Under a scheme introduced by the Department of Health in 2014, health boards and NHS trusts across the UK that report the number of international patients they treat, who are ineligible for free healthcare on the NHS, would be reimbursed for 25% of the costs.
Five health boards – Dumfries and Galloway, Fife, Forth Valley, Lanarkshire and Western Isles – have failed to report the numbers, therefore risking losing out on sums that would be paid to them by the DWP.
The Scottish Parliament's Health Committee was told the UK Government-run programme was seen by some as being "overly bureaucratic" and does not necessarily prove to be cost-effective.
Non-UK citizens visiting from the European Economic Area region are entitled to free healthcare under reciprocal arrangements covered by the European Healthcare Insurance Card (EHIC) scheme.
In submissions made before the committee hearing on Tuesday, it was stated health boards in Scotland had recovered just over half of the £4 million spent on treatment for international patients between April 2013 and March 2017.
NHS Scotland chief executive Paul Gray told MSPs he would speak to health board bosses on Tuesday evening seeking to clarify whether any sources of funding were being overlooked.
"The culture of the NHS in Scotland is to provide care to people who need it and almost, ask questions later and I'm not ashamed of that," he said.
"I think we should recover money where we legitimately can and we should observe the regulations and provisions that are in place.
"The NHS in Scotland should not do without money that it legitimately has access to but our best foot forward would be – we'll treat the person who presents with a need and then we'll seek the recovery afterwards."
She added: "It is clear that there is money to which health boards could be entitled and therefore it would be sensible for them to have it.
"If any of the health boards can advance a case that says they only treat two such patients a year and therefore the bureaucratic costs of doing it would be higher than the recovery, I'll listen to that.
"But I'd want to be assured that that was actually the case, rather than that a source of funds was being overlooked."
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which did not participate in the scheme until this year, recovered as much as £120,000 during one quarter, having re-evaluated its procedures.
Mr Gray said the sums recovered by the board should act as encouragement to other boards to evaluate whether they should engage with the scheme.
He said: "The sums may be smaller for some of the other boards in question but I think it's very important that we establish a consistent baseline of activity.
"We don't regard individuals as a source of income but nevertheless, the NHS in Scotland, and I as the principle accountable officer, have a duty to recover such funds as may be available to us".