UK & World News
Health Tourism: NHS Can Save £500m A Year
The NHS could save £500m a year if it was better at charging foreign nationals to use its services, according to a new report.
This represents a quarter of the annual £2bn cost of treating temporary migrants and foreign visitors given by the Department of Health (DoH).
The savings would come from a crackdown on so-called health tourists, who travel to the UK to access free treatment.
The Government is currently consulting on a package of measures, including a £200 annual levy on migrants from outside Europe.
A new cost recovery unit would also work to recoup money owed by other governments for treating foreign nationals.
Health tourists, such as women who come to the UK in late pregnancy to give birth, cost the NHS at least £70m each year, according to the study on migrant access to NHS care in England.
It also estimates £388m could be recovered from patients who should pay for care but are not always charged.
Officials say that only around 16% of this money - £62m - is currently recouped.
The independent report conducted for the DoH says the NHS has "some of the most generous rules in the world".
At the moment, only hospitals are required to charge for services and even then, emergency care is free.
The figures were released ahead of the second reading of the Government's Immigration Bill, which aims to bring in measures to stop migrants abusing public services.
A key measure in the Bill will see temporary migrants, such as overseas students, pay to access the NHS.
Ministers hope the levy on students or foreign workers who come to the UK for more than half a year will generate £200m a year.
The surcharge, combined with better recovery of costs and a deterrent on health tourism, could save the NHS "well over half a billion pounds", a DoH spokesman said.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the NHS is a "national health service - not an international one".
He told Sky News: "I have absolutely no problem at all with foreigners and international visitors using the NHS, but if they are not contributing to it through their taxes they should make a fair contribution in another way.
"Other European countries have much better systems in place. We have to recognise that we are one of the most open economies in the world, London is the most international city in the world and we have an NHS that is free at the point of use.
"We need to have some sensible checks so that we can recover money that will pay for more doctors and nurses."
Labour's shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: "We are in favour of improving the recovery of costs from people with no entitlement to NHS treatment."
However, he claimed the figures were based on "old and incomplete data" and were more about "spin than substance".