Pay Up First or We Won't Treat You; Hospital Crackdown on 'Health Tourists'

Article excerpt

Byline: Ellen Widdup

FOREIGN patients at a London hospital are being withheld treatment until they pay their bills in advance.

Doctors at West Middlesex University Hospital in Hounslow will stabilise patients, then quote them a price for 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 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 here from outside the EU, took advantage of doctors obliged to treat those needing urgent medical care, then left without paying. They include hundreds of women in labour, those needing life-saving operations and some dying from cancer and HIV.

West Middlesex University has introduced a "stabilise and discharge" system for foreign patients.

For 18 months, patients have been treated so they are out of danger and then given a list of what treatment is needed for full recovery. Those who cannot pay are asked to leave the hospital.

Compared with previous years' unpaid bills, the hospital estimates it has saved about [pounds sterling]700,000 in the last 12 months. …