NHS to step up efforts to reclaim treatment costs from overseas visitors

Author: Caroline White
NHS to step up efforts to reclaim treatment costs from overseas visitors

The NHS is to step up efforts to reclaim treatment costs from overseas visitors, with the expansion of the “cost recovery expert” workforce, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has announced.

The NHS has already recovered more than £1.3 billion of these costs since 2015. But there is still a significant amount of unpaid debt, says the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

Since 2018, cost-recovery experts have been working with NHS trusts to recoup the monies owed. The planned expansion, backed by £1 million in funds, will provide additional time and human resource to help identify patients who should be charged, so speeding up the process, says the DHSC.

It is also intended to ensure the rules and exemptions are universally understood and consistently implemented in hospitals across the country.

And it will help improve the reporting of income and debt collection, ensuring tourists who are eligible pay their debts in full.

The expanded team will also help the NHS understand and implement the charging rules and processes for EEA visitors and migrants as part of preparations for leaving the European Union.

Only people who are ordinarily resident in the UK are eligible for free care, with non-EEA visitors required to pay a health surcharge when they apply for a visa to live temporarily in the UK.

NHS rules state that trusts must never withhold treatment from patients who require urgent healthcare while they are in the UK, even if they cannot afford to pay. Recovery of charges can take place after the care has been provided. Where treatment is not urgent, it must not be provided unless fully paid for in advance.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said that the NHS had a global reputation for providing high quality health care, but was only able to do so because of the monies provided by taxpayers. “So it is only fair we ask overseas visitors to pay their way as well,” he said.

“We’re backing the NHS and giving them the support and the tools they need to ensure the rules are applied fairly and consistently.

“This new drive will help recoup millions in unclaimed funds for our NHS which can go back into frontline patient care, so the NHS can be there for all of us when we need it most.”

Jason Dorsett, chief finance officer, Oxford University Hospital Foundation Trust added: “We have had huge support from NHSI’s overseas visitors improvement team. Being part of the programme, we have learnt alternative ways to identify chargeable overseas patients.

“The implementation of digital tools has reduced the administrative burden on previous methods resulting in a rise of income and cash recovery. We would recommend other trusts, if given the opportunity, to be a part of the programme.”