This is despite government pledges to crack down on patients who fly to the UK specifically to use the free health service. Figures show debts have soared in the last year, with some hospital trusts millions of pounds out of pocket after writing off bills for care they gave to people not entitled to free NHS treatment.
Last year the amount of bad debts and claims that were binned amounted to £30million, up from £27million last year and £16million in 2018.
King’s College Hospital Trust in London had £15.4million of unpaid debt on its books.
But experts think the total could be as high as £300million – as it only represents cases where invoices were generated.
In many instances officials would not have issued a bill because they realised there was never any prospect of being paid.
In 2017 NHS trusts were supposed to charge routine patients upfront for the cost of their care.
This was to ensure administrators didn’t have the time-consuming job of chasing them for payment afterwards.
Patients needing emergency care were still to be invoiced later.
The Government was confident the scheme would net an extra £500million for the NHS.
But a National Audit Office report said the money raised would fall far short of that.
The issue of foreign patients being unable to pay for their care was highlighted in a BBC documentary called Hospital, where a Nigerian woman was treated as an emergency case at St Mary’s A&E, in London, after her plane stopped at Heathrow.
The woman, only identified at Priscilla, needed care for her unborn quadruplets. By the time she was discharged her bill had reached £330,000.
James Roberts, political director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “British taxpayers pay huge amounts for the NHS and don’t want to see it used and abused by overseas patients, not least given the global Covid-19 crisis.
“Foreign freeloaders cannot be allowed to travel from all over the world to access treatments without being expected to pay their way.
NHS bosses have to get a grip and stop being a soft touch.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Every taxpayer supports the health service and so it is only right that overseas visitors contribute towards their treatment costs.
“We have strengthened the rules so that NHS care must be paid for in advance of providing non-urgent treatment. Any debts that do arise from providing urgent care are pursued, with new visas normally refused if unpaid.
“We are working with a team of experts in the NHS to help hospitals better apply cost recovery regulations, with over £1.5billion identified since 2015 to go back into frontline services.”