Debt-collecting hit squads target hospitals treating the most health tourists

Watchdog NHS Improvement is targeting 50 trusts with the most short-term migrants.

Most are close to major cities and international airports.

Officials believe they can each recoup an additional £400,000 annually from patients not entitled to free care.

The hospitals will receive “intensive support” to improve cost recovery, according to a report in the Health Service Journal.

It will include project managers “well-versed in working with overseas patients” and experts in “debt recovery”.

The crackdown follows new rules requiring hospitals to charge overseas visitors upfront for non-urgent care.

Since October, staff must ask patients where they have lived for the past six months to identify who is entitled to free NHS treatment.

Patients with no right to free care cost the health service up to £2 billion a year, according to Government estimates.

Only a fraction of the cash is recovered each year.

NHS Improvement has written to all 50 trusts where it has identified an “overseas income opportunity”.

Specialist 15-strong teams will visit them throughout this month to help boost “cost recovery”.

Actions include “filtering” GP referral lists for red flags that suggest patients are ineligible for free care.

And ensuring all EU visitors present their EHIC cards, so hospital bosses can bill their home nation.

Executive Medical Director at NHS Improvement, Dr Kathy Mclean, said: “With NHS finances coming under increasing pressure, it is vital that hospitals are properly supported to recover income they are entitled to.

“The NHS should continue to be free at the point of use for people who are legally resident in the country, as well as for vulnerable groups, and that everyone should continue to have access to the urgent care they need.

“However, hospitals in England are missing out on more than £44m every year due to failings to recover the cost of treating and caring for visitors from overseas who fall outside of this category.”

GP care remains free for everyone.

Free treatment remains for emergency care, including heart attacks, strokes, most cancers and A&E visits.

Earlier this year, The Sun revealed record numbers of health tourists are flying into Britain to have their babies delivered for free on the NHS.

Our investigation found at least 2,631 ineligible women gave birth on English maternity wards last year then failed to pay – leaving a bill of £10million.

Cases are up more than a fifth in the past 12 months, from 2,167.

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