Hospitals in Sheffield count cost of foreign patient debt

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FOREIGN patients owe Sheffield’s hospitals nearly £720,000 in unpaid medical bills, new figures reveal.

NHS trusts across South Yorkshire treated 672 international patients between May 2009 and April 2011, and are still owed nearly £771,000 of the £1.61 million they should have received.

Foreign nationals living in the UK are entitled to free NHS treatment, but visitors are expected to have insurance or the bill is sent to their country of origin.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust - which runs the city’s five adult hospitals - treated 624 patients from 74 different countries.

The trust charged them £1.54m for the treatments, but nearly half is still owed.

Nearly £300,000 is outstanding from 2009/10 when 288 patients were treated and a further £420,000 from the following year when 336 were seen. The largest debt was £52,000 for a baby’s neonatal cot.

Rotherham Hospital treated 15 foreign patients, charging £22,000 over the two years. It is still owed £15,000.

And Doncaster and Bassetlaw trust, which runs Doncaster Royal Infirmary, treated 13 foreign patients and collected less than £8,000 of the £48,000 owed.

Only Barnsley Hospital has managed to collect all the money owed to it - £7,000 for treating 20 patients.

Neil Priestley, director of finance at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, said: “We attract a higher number of foreign patients than a lot of other hospitals, mainly because of the specialist services we provide.

“We are often asked to provide care for patients from other hospitals which do not have these specialist skills.

“However, we do have a stringent debt-recovery approach which is why we have not been prepared to write off these debts despite them being owed over a prolonged period.

“We will continue to do everything possible to recover the monies owed.”

Health Minister Simon Burns said: “The NHS has a duty to anyone whose life or long-term health is at immediate risk but it is not there to serve the health needs of the globe.

“We are reviewing arrangements to prevent inappropriate access to the NHS,” he said.