£800,000 owed to Norfolk hospitals from foreign patients not entitled to NHS treatment
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Hundreds of thousands of pounds is owed to Norfolk's NHS by foreign patients not entitled to free healthcare.
A bill of more than £800,000 has been run up over Norfolk's three hospitals since 2015, when rules on charging overseas visitors came into force.
In 2017 trusts were told they had to charge up-front for non-urgent care and must ask where patients have lived the past six months.
Those who are not "ordinarily resident" in the UK are charged for using NHS services.
The highest single bill was for a patient from India, of £45,410.49, who was treated at the James Paget University Hospital (JPUH) in Gorleston. The trust said they had asked solicitors and debt collection agencies to chase the patient, but they believe they had died.
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The next largest amount was £43,272.16, for a patient from the Philippines treated in the Norfolk and Norwich University (NNUH) cardiology department.
The hospital also had the highest total amount owed at £433,956.47, followed by the JPUH at £352,819.82, and then the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in King's Lynn at £54,513.08. The total amount owed across the county was £841,289.37.
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Director of finance and resources at QEH Roy Jackson said in extreme circumstances, those owing money could be stopped from coming back into the UK unless their debt is paid.
He said: "The trust has access to a variety of methods to recover the costs of medical treatment, which can on very rare occasions include a debt recovery agency, but our priority is always providing care for patients."
An NNUH spokesman added: "We would never refuse a patient care if they require emergency, urgent or necessary treatment."
They said the hospital was "legally obliged" to recover the charges and if patients cannot pay upfront, they are invoiced and asked to pay within two months of discharge. They added: "Any unpaid fees are referred to a debt collection agency."
A spokesman for JPUH said: "We follow national guidelines on the recovery of charges which can include travel or health insurance, repayment plans and debt recovery agencies. We would always work with patients and their families to ensure they understand the payment options available to them, and assist them to provide the correct documentation."