Three west hospital trusts spent £750,000 on foreign patients

Three west of England hospital trusts have spent more than £750,000 treating foreign patients not entitled to free NHS care, the BBC has learned.

The money was spent at Frenchay and Southmead in Bristol, the Royal United Hospital in Bath, and Weston General in Weston-super-Mare, over three years.

Earlier this month, the government unveiled proposals to fix the "flawed" system for recovering costs.

One of the trusts said its proportion of unrecovered costs were in decline.

The trust that runs Bristol Royal Infirmary declined to immediately provide figures.

North Bristol Trust, which runs Frenchay and Southmead, said it had carried out more than 700 procedures on overseas patients in the last three years.

Every effort made

The total cost of that treatment was about £930,000, of which it had recovered £223,000.

The trust said its annual turnover last year was £520m and that the cost that year of treating overseas visitors - £333,000 - equated to 0.06% of its turnover.

It said the amount of income due from overseas patients that cannot be recovered had declined over the last few years and recovery of last year's money was ongoing.

The trust said most patients were coming to its hospitals in an emergency situation and the NHS had a duty to provide care and treatment in those circumstances.

It said every effort was made to trace the patient and claim back money owed, but once every avenue had been exhausted it had no other choice than write the debt off.

The Royal United Hospital (RUH) carried out 99 procedures on people from overseas costing £593,000, of which £546,000 was recovered.

'Tiny amount'

The hospital's finance director, Sarah Truelove, said: "I'm really pleased that we are so successful in recovering this money because it does mean we have more funding for our NHS patients.

"I think a lot of it is about the processes we have in place to recover those costs."

At Weston General, eight procedures were carried out costing about £10,500, of which just under £2,000 was recovered.

The trust said this represented 0.009% of its total income.

Dr Richard Vautrey, a committee member of the British Medical Association (BMA), said: "This is a tiny amount compared to the billions of pounds that are spent on the NHS. Health care is a very expensive commodity.

"This isn't a major problem.

"Clearly some hospitals could do better in recouping the costs, but sometimes it gets to the point where it costs more to recoup those costs than the figures you will actually get back."

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