Tourist died after hospital bill row: Inquiry begins after claim that administrator argued with sick Iranian's family about payment. Mary Braid reports

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The Independent Online
AN IRANIAN man, on holiday in Britain, died seven hours after leaving an NHS hospital following a row about payment for treatment.

Hammersmith Hospital in west London has promised a full investigation into the 'very serious' complaints about the treatment of Habibollahkhan Khezri, 68, who died last Tuesday.

Mr Khezri was in London to be reunited, for the first time in 10 years, with his daughter Fatima, 37, a political refugee, and his 14-year-old grandson, when he became ill.

The retired tailor, who had a heart condition, was admitted to the hospital on 1 August with chest pains, three weeks after arriving in Britain. On 10 August, he received a pounds 1,650 bill for his six-day stay and was given 14 days to pay. Ms Khezri claims he received no major treatment. A week later she rushed her father to the hospital's accident and emergency department with severe stomach pain.

While he lay in a hospital bed, she claims an administrator argued with her over payment for previous treatment. She says the administrator also talked to the doctor, who later told her that there was nothing he could do for her father and sent them home with a prescription and three tablets for constipation.

'I was astounded. You cannot imagine how much pain my father was in,' Ms Khezri said. 'He was writhing around and was making so much noise that the nurse kept asking me to keep him quiet because he was disturbing other patients. But he was an old man in tremendous pain.

'The administrator had said you must pay, you can't just expect to come to this country and get medical treatment. But I told her my father had not come for medical treatment. We did not know he would become ill.

'I said I was contacting relatives to find a way of paying. The 14 days to pay the bill were not even up. I told her I had been resident here for eight years, that I was not going anywhere and that I would deal with the bill. I pleaded could she not just help my father now.

'He was in agony at home in the final hours. I called an ambulance when he had trouble breathing. It took 40 minutes to come. The death certificate says he died in hospital, but I think he was dead before they took him from my home. I cannot bring my father back but I want people to know how he died.'

Mr Khezri's body will be flown back to Iran tomorrow for burial.

Ms Khezri said her father had lethargic and sleepy between the two hospital visits. He had been constipated for 10 days when he returned to Hammersmith. The cause of death is recorded as faecal peritonitis - leakage of faecally stained material from the large bowel into the abdomen.

Jill Rutter, of the Refugee Council, said: 'We have seen an increase in incidents where health services are denied to refugees and non-residents. It is a repugnant practice.'

A Department of Health spokesman said yesterday that all non-residents should be granted free treatment in a medical emergency. It was up to clinicians to decide what constituted an emergency. Only European Community nationals received other treatment free.

Last night, a spokesman for Hammersmith said he could not comment until the complaint was investigated.

(Photograph omitted)