Foreign 'Health Tourist' Skips on Largest Ever Medical Bill in British Hospital
UK taxpayers left to foot the bill for record-breaking healthcare costs
A foreign "health tourist" has skipped on the largest ever unpaid medical bill in a British hospital, leaving UK taxpayers to pay the eye-watering £623,000 ($770,000) in healthcare costs.
The patient, whose name and nationality are unknown, escaped without settling their bill for care they received at the state-funded NHS Trust Mid Essex hospital.
Health officials who manage several hospitals in the district claim that by revealing any information about the patient, or the care they received, would be a "breach of data protection laws."
The NHS (National Health Service) has been blasted by patient support groups and campaigners for allowing the bill to go unpaid with the public-funded Health Service already under immense pressure.
"This is big money and we can scarcely afford the NHS as it is without paying for all these people too," Joyce Robins from Patient Concern told The Sun newspaper.
"I can't believe there is not a better way of running the system so these bills are not left unpaid."
According to the Daily Mail, Mid Essex NHS Trust is currently rated "requires improvement" by the Care Quality Commission, with only one of five assessment criteria considered good enough.
According to Government policy, foreign nationals should be charged upfront for non-urgent care.
People visiting the country rushed to A&E during their stay can still get treatment free of charge.
EU nationals are covered by their European Health Insurance Card, while those from outside the Union need to have health insurance to meet the costs or fork out.
The Essex unpaid bill is nearly £100,000 greater than the previous record of £428,000 ($529k) incurred at St Guy's and St Thomas' in central London.
If an NHS charge incurred by an overseas visitor is left unpaid, health officials are forced to foot the bill.
Last year it was reported that the NHS had to write off £27million ($33.4m) in unpaid hospital debts.
NHS charges explained
Within England, free NHS hospital treatment is provided on the basis of someone being "ordinarily resident."
It is not dependent upon nationality, payment of UK taxes, national insurance contributions, being registered with a GP, having an NHS number or owning property in the UK.
The changes which came into effect in April 2015 affect visitors and former UK residents differently, depending on where they now live.
Treatment in A&E departments and at GP surgeries remains free for all.
Victims of torture, domestic, sexual violence or FGM are not charged for treatment, provided they have not traveled to the UK specifically to get care.
War veterans and members of the armed forces are also exempt.
EU nationals are covered by their European Health Insurance Card.
Largest unpaid NHS bills in England
- Mid Essex NHS Trust - £623,000 ($770k)
- Guy's and St Thomas's, London - £428,000 ($529k)
- Barts Health, London - £286,128 ($353k)
- University Hospitals Birmingham - £276,790 ($340k)
- Leeds Teaching Hospitals - £211,811 ($260k)
- Kings College Hospital - £143,000 ($177k)
- Hillingdon Hospitals, London - £83,000 ($103k)
- Cambridge University Hospitals - £82,000 ($101k)