Borough's Bill For Foreign Patients Tops £400,000

Dudley Group NHS Trust are chasing bills of over £200,000 from overseas patients who have failed to pay for treatment received from local medical facilities.

Over the last three years, the Trust has billed patients who are not entitled to free NHS treatment a total of £407,061 - of which £114,685 has been paid, and £65,301 remains outstanding. £227,075 has been written off because of death and patients who don't have the funds or who have returned to their home country. 

Dr Paul Harrison, the trust’s acting chief executive, said overseas visitors were informed that there would be a charge for their care as soon as they are identified, usually at their initial outpatient appointment or on admission to a ward. He said:

“Where possible, inpatients are given their invoice before they are discharged from hospital and we initially ask patients to settle their bill, in full, within 14 days.

"However, payment plans are also available for those who are not able to pay the total sum immediately.”

But when bills remain unpaid, the trust follows its standard debt recovery process, which involves attempts to contact patients via letter, phone or email. However Dr Harrison said time spent chasing debt was “not excessive” due to the “comparatively small number of overseas visitors” the trust sees.

He added that if a patient is from outside the European Economic Area, the outstanding debt is also reported to the Home Office, which may restrict their ability to re-enter the UK until the bill is paid.

From April 1, NHS hospitals will have a legal duty to charge overseas patients upfront for non-urgent care if they are not eligible for free treatment. Dr Harrison said this should “increase awareness” of charges and make the system for identifying patients “more effective”.

The change has also been welcomed by Bill Etheridge, a UKIP councillor for Sedgley and a West Midlands MEP. He said:

“This is supposed to be the National Health Service, not the International Health Service, yet here we see even more money being drained away. There are constant calls for more funding, but it’s time we ensured the amount the NHS gets now is used properly and not wasted.

“The new regulations are a step in the right direction, but I would much prefer if visitors had private health insurance before they are allowed in the country.”


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