Health ‘tourists’ costing Redbridge millions

FOREIGN health cheats who undergo treatment in hospital but run off without paying are costing cash-strapped local health chiefs �4.2m – the highest amount in the country.

Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust – which manages Queen’s Hospital, in Rom Valley Way, Romford, and King George, in Goodmayes, were forced to write off nearly �3 million of in bad debt in 2008/09 and a further �1.2m in 2009/10.

It is the most of any trust in the country, according to Freedom of Information (FoI) data collected by a national newspaper.

The debts include more than �44k in ante-natal care for a baby born prematurely with a host of illnesses to a Nigerian woman.

And nearly �80k for neurosurgery on a Ghanaian patient who had a brain haemorrhage.

The culprits are mainly pregnant women from overseas who come into the country close to full term, before having their babies and fleeing, a trust spokesman said.

Emergency patients from abroad who do not pay for treatment are also a drain on the trust, she added.

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A series of measures has been introduced by the trust to try and reduce runaways, including pre-admission interviews so foreign patients are aware they may have to meet the cost of their treatment, accept that liability and have the means to pay.

The spokesman added: “We are also taking additional steps to track non-paying patients back to their home by working with the embassies of those nationals who are frequent offenders.”

Asylum seekers, foreign tourists and visitors who outstay their visas are thought to be among offenders.

A spokesman for the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “There are huge pressures on the healthcare budget and taxpayers can’t afford to fund an international health service. Of course no one should be turned away in an emergency situation, but equally hospitals need to ensure that they are doing all they can to recover medical care costs from foreigners who are treated here.

“It’s not fair that some health tourists see the UK as an easy way to get free treatment because they can’t afford it at home.”

The trust currently has a huge �117m of rolling debt, according to the latest figures available, which chiefs are struggling to clear.

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