An investigation into overseas patients in the NHS has found that a significant amount of money is being frittered away.
An unpaid bill of £30 million was discovered via a Freedom of Information request.
Patients who were not entitled to free treatment on the health service owed £29,530,378 in 2015/16.
Over 120 NHS trusts were approached for information, with 104 responding.
Patients organisations have already suggested that the money being wasted could instead be invested in improving standards or hiring more staff.
And numerous NHS trusts indicated that they are now owed a backlog of millions of pounds over several years.
Barts has outstanding payments owed in excess of £10 million, while many other trusts also have similar amounts waiting to be paid.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, believes that the figures are scandalous.
“It is shocking that so many costs are left unpaid by overseas patients using the NHS. If this money was reinvested in the NHS it could mean the difference between hiring more nurses or paying for additional equipment. Patients have very strong feelings about overseas visitors, and understandably, patients feel that an NHS with diminishing resources should be prioritising UK citizens first and foremost. The money owed to London NHS trusts alone is jaw-dropping”.
And Dr Mark Porter, chairman of the British Medical Association, largely concurred with this verdict.
“It is important that costs are recouped from patients who are not eligible for NHS treatment, but systems to charge migrants and short-term visitors need to be practical, economic and efficient and must not jeopardise access to healthcare for those who need it. A doctor’s duty is to treat the patient in front of them, not to act as a border guard”.
Porter also believes that the long-term damage caused by such fees outstanding could be massive.
“Sick and vulnerable patients must not be deterred from seeking necessary treatment, otherwise there may be serious consequences for their health and that of the public in general”.
Responding to the issue,a spokesman from Barts Health NHS Trust, arguably struggling more than any other trust with outstanding payments, indicated that efforts are being made to address the situation.
“We make every effort to recover costs from eligible patients. We use hand-held card readers to obtain funds from patients at their bedside, and have recently improved our internal processes to more quickly identify paying patients. Our four major hospitals include the largest cardiovascular unit in the country, a major trauma centre and one of the largest dialysis units in the UK and care for some of the most seriously unwell patients in London.”
The Department of Health spokeswoman has vowed to recover £500 million annually by the middle of this Parliament.