Overseas patients owe NHS £600k

NHS Lothian is counting the cost of unpaid medical bills. Picture: Greg Macvean
NHS Lothian is counting the cost of unpaid medical bills. Picture: Greg Macvean
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OVERSEAS patients have racked up debts of more than half a million pounds after being treated in Lothian’s hospitals and not settling the bill.

The health board is owed £597,724 by foreign nationals who have required treatment while visiting Scotland in recent years.

NHS Lothian’s outstanding fees are second only to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which is owed £807,258.

The figures, contained in a freedom of information response, revealed that an individual from St Vincent and the Grenadines owes £824, while a visitor from Malawi owes £126.

Patients from India and the United States were among those who accrued less modest costs – with total bills of those nationalities amounting to £117,617 and £128,695 respectively.

NHS Lothian chiefs are still awaiting documentation for £73,000 worth of care to establish the nationality of some patients.

Scottish Conservatives health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said the figures reflected a “serious problem which is depriving our hospitals of millions of pounds”.

No-one from NHS Lothian was available to give an official comment, however the figure was described by a source as a small amount when compared with the board’s overall budget of more than £1 billion.

Financial pressures such as staff pay, the burgeoning price of treatments and rising pension contributions weigh heavy on NHS Lothian’s purse strings while chiefs try to manage waiting times and cater for a population of 850,000.

In Scotland, healthcare providers decide when an overseas visitor requires services in an NHS hospital and if charges should be applied.

Certain services in the UK – such as ambulance services, A&E care, and wards associated with A&E – are free to everyone.

After emergency treatment, medical professionals will decide whether the patient needs further inpatient care or registration as an outpatient, and whether they should be charged.

Mr Carlaw said: “The NHS cannot turn patients away, everyone understands that. But there is clearly a serious problem here which is depriving our hospitals of millions of pounds. At a time when there are unprecedented pressures on the health service and cash is tight, this is money we can ill afford.”

He called for more resources to help health boards recover the money, adding: “These figures show that, on some occasions, the amounts are vast. Scotland cannot be allowed to earn itself a reputation as a paradise for health tourists. That’s not fair on the taxpayer, and not fair on patients.”

Health boards across Scotland reflected a mixed picture of the outstanding bills for overseas patients, totting up a total bill of £2,009,338.

NHS Forth Valley was the only one of the country’s 14 health boards not owed any money by visitors.

kaye.nicolson@edinburghnews.com