24 Aug 2012
Foreign patients who receive treatment at Scottish hospitals then leave without paying the bill owe nearly £1 million, research has found.
Health boards across Scotland said the cash was outstanding for a range of procedures carried out over the past few years, meaning the taxpayer will have to foot the bill.
Treatments range from maternity to eye treatments, with patients originating from every continent in the world, prompting fears that Scotland is becoming a centre for health tourism.
Once a patient leaves hospital and returns to their home country, it is particularly difficult for NHS boards to reclaim the money – sometimes running to tens of thousands of pounds – back.
Those who owe money come from countries as far afield as Pakistan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, with some invoices going back four years.
And with one Scottish health board failing to respond to the Freedom of Information request, the total of £982,000 is expected to be much higher.
Among the examples of money owed includes a Canadian who received more than £3,000 worth of cardiology care in Fife; an American who enjoyed five separate stays and gave birth at the cost of £4,500 in Lanarkshire; and an Italian who ran up nearly £,1000 in gynaecology bills in Edinburgh.
A Brazilian also owes NHS Orkney more than £3,000 for renal care provided.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman and deputy leader Jackson Carlaw MSP said:
“Of course if someone is visiting Scotland and requires emergency medical attention we can’t stop them at the door to demand cash.
“But it should not be beyond the wit of our health service to ascertain one’s ability to pay before receiving elective treatment.
“That could include pre-payment, a deposit system or a credit card authorisation.
“Our NHS budgets are under pressure and that £1 million could be used to hire dozens of nurses.
“Taxpayers work hard to help fund our hospitals, and we should not let this be abused by those who are taking advantage of our health service.
“Something has to be introduced to clamp down on this happening, because once someone is treated and disappears back to their own country, it is nigh-on impossible to get the money owed back.
“I absolutely sympathise with those who need emergency care, but examination of the instances in which treatment was given out shows that many of these procedures would have been pre-planned.
“Our NHS may be the envy of the world, but that does not mean the world can have a piece without paying its way.”
Notes to Editors
Below is a regional breakdown of how much Scotland’s health boards are owed:
NHS Ayrshire and Arran – did not respond
NHS Borders – £10,502
NHS Dumfries and Galloway – £64,468
NHS Fife – £5,807
NHS Forth Valley – £8,095
NHS Grampian – £68,218
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde – £364,538
NHS Highland – £132,000
NHS Lanarkshire – £11,523
NHS Lothian – £292,712
NHS Orkney – £12,047
NHS Shetland – £0
NHS Tayside – £12,909
NHS Western Isles – £0
Total – £982,813
For individual FoI responses, contact the Scottish Conservative press office