More than £1.2 million is owed historically to the NHS in Scotland by overseas patients who have failed to pay for hospital treatment, it has emerged.
Figures obtained through Freedom of Information show that patients from the US, India, Pakistan, Canada and all across the globe owe thousands of pounds for care they received in Scotland.
Glasgow and Lothian have the biggest debts with almost half a million pounds owed to each health board, it has emerged.
Tens of thousands of pounds is still owed by overseas patients who received plastic surgery on the NHS. Others received treatment for heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and a range of operations, the figures show.
NHS chiefs insist they have “rigorous processes” in place to recover money owed for the cost of treating international patients, but admit that thousands of pounds have been “written off” as the debts are deemed a lost cause.
At a time of chronic pressure on the NHS, opposition leaders are warning that the outstanding cash is badly needed.
Tory health spokesman Miles Briggs said: “This is a significant amount of money that should have been returned to our NHS. With health board budgets currently under strain, recovering these fees could be a useful boost.
“We need to make every effort we can to recover as much of these funds as possible so we can invest it back into frontline services.”
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “At a time when NHS budgets are under huge pressure, it’s important that any money owed to the Scottish NHS is recovered, so that it can be invested in resources and services.” Hundreds of overseas patients are treated in Scotland’s NHS every year. They are liable to pay for their treatment, although some health boards won’t charge for treatment in Accident and Emergency when this takes less than four hours. Patients with a valid European Health Insurance Card or living in countries with a “reciprocal agreement” with the UK for health treatment don’t pay.
The money owed has increased in recent years. In NHS Lothian last year, there was £347,089 owed by 28 patients, compared with £47,755 owed by fewer than five patients the previous year. A total of £423,326 is owed to the board in recent years.
The figures from Greater Glasgow and Clyde show that the number of overseas patients treated rose from 67 in 2014/15 to 99 last year.
A total of £455,081 is owed to the health board.