GPs offered cash to trap 'health tourists'

Family doctors are to be offered a cash incentive for "shopping" so-called health tourists as a survey reveals that US citizens are among the most likely to claim free NHS care wrongly.

John Hutton, the minister responsible, will tell GP practices they can keep money recovered from the "health tourists" they help to catch.

However, Mr Hutton was embarrassed when he admitted that the Government has no idea how much "health tourism" is costing. Some bodies have claimed it costs up to £200m each year to treat ineligible patients.

But health economists say that the only research so far carried out suggests that such figures are wildly inaccurate. Evidence presented to a seminar on the issue last week showed that only half of GPs surveyed had reported treating ineligible patients in the last three months.

The research carried out by the Centre for Health Economics at York University, also found that US citizens were the second most likely to wrongly claim NS care.

Just over 9 per cent of the "health tourists" identified were US citizens, compared with 14 per cent from Pakistan. British ex-pats, who do not pay UK taxes and are therefore ineligible, were the fifth largest group.

Most "health tourists" in the survey were discovered to be seeking care for pregnancy.

Dr Paul Kind, who carried out the research, said: "It's pretty worrying that the Government is unable to say how much this problem is costing and is therefore making policy without the key evidence."