'Health Tourists' Told to Pay for Treatment or Go Home

Article excerpt

Byline: Ellen Widdup

FOREIGN patients at a London hospital are being withheld treatment until they pay their bills up-front.

Doctors at West Middlesex University hospital in Hounslow will stabilise patients, then quote them on any further treatment.

If they do not produce cash or credit cards to fund the treatment they are asked to leave.

The scheme is part of a new attempt to prevent "health tourists" leaving Britain without paying their bills.

A Standard investigation today reveals they have failed to pay [pounds sterling]7 million owed to the NHS in the past year.

The patients, most of whom travelled to the UK from outside the European Union, took advantage of doctors obliged to treat those needing urgent medical care, then left without paying.

They include hundreds of pregnant women who arrived at maternity units in labour, those needing life-saving operations and some dying from cancer and HIV.

But West Middlesex University has taken matters into its own hands by introducing a "stabilise and discharge" system for foreign patients.

For the past 18 months, patients have been treated so they are no longer in danger and then given a list of what treatment is needed for a full recovery.

Those who cannot pay immediately are refused further treatment and requested to leave the hospital.

Compared to previous years' unpaid bills, the hospital estimates it has saved around [pounds sterling]700,000 in the last 12 months. A hospital spokesman said: "We believe we have robust and fair procedures for establishing entitlement to NHS services. …