Overseas patients owe NHS Lothian more than £400,000

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OVERSEAS patients owe the Capital’s health body more than £400,000 after receiving treatment in the Lothians but failing to settle their bills.

It comes as latest figures show outstanding fees owed to NHS Lothian by non-EU nationals currently stand at £423,326.

Data released under Freedom of Information laws reveals the nation with the biggest debt is America, whose residents currently owe an overall sum of £195,250. The United States is followed at the top of the list by India – with outstanding costs of £61,341 – and Fiji, which owes £51,121.

Nations with more modest outstanding sums include Venezuela – with debts of £1578 – and Brazil, which owes £1470. The smallest debt – owed by Namibia – stands at just £380.

Scottish Government guidelines state it is up to NHS healthcare providers to decide when an overseas visitor needs care or services in an NHS hospital and if charges should be applied.

However, emergency medical treatment is free to everyone, with a decision taken by the NHS healthcare providers after treatment as to whether more care is needed, and if an invoice should be raised.

Miles Briggs, Lothian MSP and shadow health secretary, described the debt as “worrying” and urged the Scottish Government to prioritise its recovery.

He said: “Lothian residents will be understandably concerned that so much money is owed to NHS Lothian by overseas patients.

“NHS Boards usually agree to provide surgical and non-emergency procedures for overseas patients on the basis that clear arrangements are in place for them to be reimbursed from the overseas patient’s own country and therefore it is worrying that so much of this remains outstanding.

“At a time when the budget pressures on NHS Lothian are so severe, NHS Lothian and indeed the Scottish Government should be working as hard as possible to recover all of the money owed so that this can be used to help provide the best possible health service for local patients and to avoid any risk of the level of outstanding money owed impacting on services.”

When broken down by type of care, the figures show the largest amount of outstanding costs – £166,221 – relate to “intensive therapy” for patients in intensive care.

Meanwhile, the board is owed a total of £74,187 for stroke treatment, £51,121 for medical oncology, £29,547 for plastic surgery and £28,093 for obstetrics. The smallest sum owed for a particular treatment comes in at just £54 for some physiotherapy.

However, the figures – which go back to 2014 – show NHS Lothian has managed to recover £612,371 and health bosses said they would continue to pursue outstanding funds.

Susan Goldsmith, NHS Lothian finance director, said: “We take the issue of retrieving costs from overseas patients very seriously, which is why we have a small, dedicated team which works closely with overseas agencies to recover outstanding debts.”