The truth about ‘health tourism’: Twice as many foreign visitors pay to use NHS as exploit free healthcare in Britain

New research that turns the high-profile debate on its head, has found that 18 NHS trusts made a total income of £42m in 2010-11 from foreign paying patients

The number of foreign patients who pay to use the NHS each year could be twice as high as the number of so-called “health tourists” exploiting free healthcare in the UK, a new academic study suggests.

In research that turns the high-profile debate over health tourism on its head, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and University of York found that 18 NHS trusts made a total income of £42m in 2010-11 from foreign paying patients – or “medical tourists”.

The study also highlights the massive potential for NHS trusts to make money from foreign paying patients, who are willing to spend large sums on care at some of the health service’s internationally renowned hospitals.

In total, 52,000 people who entered the UK in 2010 declared that the main purpose of their visit was to seek healthcare. Researchers said it was highly unlikely that any of them would be seeking to exploit the NHS for free care because it would be too easy to track them. While some will have been visiting for treatment in the private sector, a large number will have visited NHS hospitals that were willing to charge for certain procedures.

Dr Johanna Hanefeld, lecturer in health systems economics at LSHTM, said that as a result it was likely that the number of foreign patients paying for NHS care is double the number coming to the UK seeking free healthcare – a group estimated to number between 5,000 and 20,000 by government-commissioned research published earlier this week. The new research also found that, overall, the UK is a “net exporter” of patients, with 63,000 travelling abroad for treatment in 2010.

Researchers submitted Freedom of Information requests to 28 NHS foundation trust hospitals. Among the 18 trusts which responded was Great Ormond Street children’s hospital, which took an income of over £20m from 656 patients.

The potential for foreign patients to pay for care at NHS hospitals is set to increase. Under the Government’s health reforms, NHS trusts can now raise up to 49 per cent of funds through non-NHS work – a huge increase on the 2 per cent cap set by the previous government.

Sarah Bickerstaffe, from the Institute for Public Policy Research, said that high-performing hospitals should look to generate income from so-called “medical tourists” in the same way the UK’s top universities bring in huge sums from foreign students every year.

“Health is a key export industry for the UK and we should be much bolder at exploiting it,” she said. “Immigration policy should be helping the NHS to generate more income from foreign patients.” However, the drive to open the health service up to foreign paying patients is likely to raise concerns British NHS patients will lose out.

The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said earlier this week that the NHS could save up to £500m each year by recovering money spent on overseas visitors using the NHS for free. But the Government’s own research suggested only 5,000 to 20,000 people could be reasonably labelled as health tourists, and the cost to the NHS of treating them was likely to be £60m to £80m.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “All income from private patients – which is just 0.5 per cent of the NHS budget for 2013-14 – must be reinvested back into NHS services. NHS patients will benefit from increased investment in facilities and new technology. The Health and Social Care Act ensures that services for NHS patients will always come first and that the responsibility of any NHS organisation is to provide NHS services.”

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
fashionA new dress to enrage the internet...
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own