As shocking as it may seem the case of the woman on fertility drugs who flew to Britain when she learned she was pregnant, had quintuplets, cost the taxpayer an estimated £200,000, is by no means unique; so-called “health tourism” continues to be a drain on ever-stretched NHS resources.
Earlier this month the media reported on the case of a 33-year-old Nigerian woman who had allegedly been taking twice the prescribed dose of a fertility drug when she, not surprisingly, became pregnant.
The woman subsequently applied for and received, a UK visitors’ visa and shortly afterwards arrived in London on a scheduled flight from Lagos.
Due to her advanced condition, which resulted in her going into labour prematurely, she required an emergency NHS scan that revealed she was expecting quads.
However the diagnosis was incorrect and it was only while she was being given a caesarean operation that a fifth baby was delivered.
Consultants, midwives, paediatricians, social workers and health visitors were involved in her (and her children’s) medical care and support; Tower Hamlets council providing her with a two-bedroomed flat, and the state, presumably, with the usual financial benefits.
Following the expiry of her visitor’s visa in late June she has allegedly asked the Home Office, through a legal representative, for a six-month extension of her visa on the basis that her five children are too fragile for the flight back to Nigeria.
Home Office officials are reported as admitting that although they realize that the woman is required to pay for the cost of her and her children’s care, they also accept that it is very unlikely she will be able to do so.
UK Border Agency officials claim they see around 150 cases a year at Gatwick Airport of heavily pregnant passengers arriving with visitor visas; how many come through Heathrow and other major British airports has yet to be disclosed.
Not all cases involve African woman – woman from Asia and Eastern Europe also, apparently, regard our National Health Service as the World Health Service.
That “Health Tourism” isn’t just confined to London is demonstrated by a report carried on the party’s South West Nationalists website (http://southwesthnationalists.blogspot.com/) as recently as yesterday.
North Bristol NHS Trust, currently facing cutbacks of £28 million and the loss of over 400 jobs, has spent £2.4 million on treating foreign patients who are not eligible for free NHS care.
The trust, which covers Southmead and Frenchay hospitals, admitted to the huge scale of spending on “health tourists” in an answer to a Freedom of Information request.
Since 2003 they have billed foreign patients who were not eligible for free health care a total of £2.4 million – and have succeeded in recovering on £688,000 of that from the patients, leaving £1,732,000 spent out on foreign patients with no entitlement to free treatment, a sum which is not likely to be recovered.
A question in Parliament revealed that, across Britain, £35.4 million had been written off as unrecoverable, a figure which beggars belief considering the huge cutbacks which our NHS is facing.
Chris Skidmore, Tory MP for Kingswood, said that “In recent years, there has been a rise in the number of foreign nationals, ineligible for free care, who have been using NHS services”.
Indeed there has been, and if we wondered why – apart from our lax border controls of course – a spokesman for North Bristol NHS Trust spells it out.
“Refusing patients medical treatment when they need it would be unacceptable. We have procedures in place to recover the cost of that treatment but unfortunately, due to the often transient nature of this category of patients, repeated attempts are, in many cases, unsuccessful”.
Of course. Those presenting themselves for free treatment know that they’ve a very good chance of getting away with never paying, so they take a chance. The odds are good they’ll get away with it, the odds are that even if they turned up owing money we’d still treat them.
Britain has become a focal point for health tourists from all over the world – and it’s all of us that keep picking up the bill, even whilst we ourselves suffer under an NHS which is being forced to cut back services and staff in order to save money.
Also yesterday the BBC’s Radio 4 Inside Ethics Committee program discussed a closely related theme; the synopsis of which was:-
Moha is a mature student born in Africa who desperately needs a transplant. His nephew, living in Africa, offers to donate a kidney. But Moha has a secret, he is HIV positive, and his doctors feel his nephew has a right to know. The question the Ethics Committee explores is whether Moha should be forced to tell.
The radio program is both revealing and thought provoking, well worth listening to in fact. It can be found here.