NHS sending debt collectors to recoup millions from overseas patients

When the NHS was launched in 1948 on the premise that good healthcare should be available to all, no one could have predicted the strain which would be put on the service by overseas patients.
Now, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has promised to take a hard line stance to get back money owed to the NHS.
His pledge comes as a new report indicates the NHS is failing to claw back millions of pounds spent on treating overseas patients, who are not entitled to free treatment.
The report, put together by number crunchers at the National Audit Office (NAO) found that NHS Trusts across the country collected only £255 million of at least £500 million spent on treating foreign patients last year.
Stretched doctors and nurses feel it is not their duty to make sure that visitors from overseas are charged for the treatment they receive.
The NAO says there were eight Trusts in England which did not collect a single penny from overseas patients.
Specialist debt collectors are now set to be sent in to Trusts which aren’t recouping money which could be spent on services.
Currently, overseas patients tend to be only charged for the non-urgent care they receive, but ministers want the charges to be applied across the board.
Mr Hunt wants overseas patients to be charged when they to hospital as an emergency, for use of ambulances, maternity units and GPs. The new crackdown is set to combat so-called health tourism when people come over from other countries specifically to access the NHS.
Mr Hunt said consultations had been carried out earlier this year to look at charging migrants and visitors for all aspects of NHS care.
He added: “We will set out further steps in due course to ensure we deliver on our objective to recover £500 million a year by the middle of this Parliament.”
The extra money recouped could pay for around 12,000 fully qualified nurses, given that a qualified nurse starts on a salary just short of £22,000.
This latest report follows new measures introduced by the Government in 2014 to make sure regulations could be implemented more effectively.
The programme has been partly successful, with the amount recouped by NHS Hospital Trusts rising from £73 million in the 2012/13 financial year to £289 million in the latest financial year.
But the NAO says it expects only £346 million to be collected in the next financial year, despite its target of £500 million.