Health tourists ‘costing NHS billions of pounds’

THE growing number of “health tourists” using the NHS is costing the taxpayer billions of pounds every year, a senior doctor yesterday warned.

Maternity health tourism is a “massive and escalating problem”, Professor J Meirion Thomas said.

The health service, which is in the middle of a £20 billion efficiency drive, is being used as the “world’s maternity wing”, said Prof Thomas. Writing in The Spectator magazine, he said: “Foreign women often arrive in the UK in late pregnancy, often after detecting a complication.

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“They come on a visitor’s visa and present to A&E while in labour. Often the patient refuses to pay, claiming that a childbirth qualifies as emergency care and therefore cannot be refused to anyone. In this way, the NHS can be used as the world’s maternity wing.”

The cancer specialist – a consultant surgeon at the Royal Marsden Hospital London –added there is “much evidence” of identity fraud.

Prof Thomas said he has heard “scandalous” reports of NHS abuse from numerous overseas visitor officers – who are employed by hospitals to identify, interview, invoice and recover costs from individuals.

“This abuse may be costing the NHS (and therefore the British taxpayer) not millions, but billions of pounds every year,” he wrote.

He urged government ministers to stop giving NHS numbers to overseas visitors.