UK gives £1m to expand NHS team that recovers costs from 'overseas visitors'

Lianna Brinded
Head of Yahoo Finance UK
A surgeon and his theatre team perform key hole surgery. Photo: Getty

The UK government just dedicated £1m ($1.2m) to expand an existing team of experts that focus on recovering “outstanding debts from overseas visitors who are required to pay for their care.”

In a statement today, UK health secretary Matt Hancock said this team of experts work with cost-recovery managers in NHS trusts and the extra funding will, amongst other things, help provide additional time and resource to help identify patients who should be charged.

“Our beloved NHS is renowned around the world for providing high quality health care and it is able to do so thanks to the valuable contributions made by hardworking taxpayers — so it is only fair we ask overseas visitors to pay their way as well,” said Hancock.

“Today, we’re backing the NHS and giving them the support and the tools they need to ensure the rules are applied fairly and consistently. This new drive will help recoup millions in unclaimed funds for our NHS which can go back into frontline patient care, so the NHS can be there for all of us when we need it most.”

The government says it has claimed back more than £1.3bn since 2015 but there is “still a significant amount of unpaid debt.”

While it said it “remains committed to protecting the most vulnerable people in our society,” which includes refugees, asylum seekers, and victims of modern slavery, only people who are UK residents are eligible for free care. The government also reiterated in the statement that non-European Economic Area visitors are required to pay a health surcharge when they apply for a visa to live temporarily in the UK.

As part of the cost-recovery team’s duties, it will also help the NHS understand and implement the charging rules and processes for EEA visitors and migrants as part of preparations for leaving the EU.

For now, the government said “after Brexit, EEA nationals living lawfully in the UK can continue to use the NHS as they do now.”

“We have had huge support from NHSI’s overseas visitors improvement team. Being part of the programme, we have learnt alternative ways to identify chargeable overseas patients,” said Jason Dorsett, Chief Finance Officer, Oxford University Hospital Foundation Trust in the same statement.

“The implementation of digital tools has reduced the administrative burden on previous methods resulting in a rise of income and cash recovery. We would recommend other Trusts if given the opportunity to be a part of the programme.”