Foreign patients owe the NHS £27MILLION from last year alone

Foreign patients owe the NHS £27MILLION from last year as experts fear overseas visitors see the health service as a ‘soft touch’

  • Over the past four years, the NHS has missed out on £76million, figures show
  • Experts call the figures ‘ridiculous’, adding ‘we cannot afford to treat the world’
  • This is despite the Government cracking down on visitors using the NHS for free 

Foreign patients owe the NHS millions in unpaid bills, figures have revealed.

NHS Trusts were forced to write off £27million last year alone after patients who were ineligible for free treatment did not pay up.

And over the past four years, the health service has missed out on an astonishing £76million from overseas patients who have not forked out.

Experts worry the already over-stretched NHS is being ‘abused’ due to foreigners seeing it as a ‘soft touch’.

Foreign patients owe the NHS millions in unpaid bills, figures have revealed (stock)

Joyce Robins, co-director of Patient Concern, told The Sun: ‘It is absolutely ridiculous. 

‘Ministers need to do more to discourage ineligible people from abusing the NHS.

‘We are seen as a soft touch. We cannot afford to treat the world, with the NHS already overrun.’

John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, argues Britons ‘often have to cough up at A&E’ if they injure themselves abroad and the same rules should apply for holidaymakers in the UK. 

The cost of treating patients who are ineligible for treatment has risen by more than two-thirds from £16.2million in 2016-to-2017, the figures show.

This is despite the Government cracking down on foreign visitors using the NHS for free. 

In 2017, rules were introduced that charge foreign patients requiring hospital treatment an upfront cost of 150 per cent of the standard NHS rate, unless they qualify for exemptions. Personal health insurance should cover this.


  • King’s College Hospital Trust, London: £11.1million
  • Guy’s and St Thomas’ Trust, London:£6million
  • Barts Health, London: £4.2million
  • University College London Hospitals Trust: £3.6million
  • Manchester University Trust: £3.2million
  • Imperial College Trust, London: £3.1million
  • Chelsea and Westminster Trust, London: £1.9million
  • University Hospitals Birmingham Trust: £1.6million
  • Royal Brompton & Harefield Trust, London: £1.3million
  • University Hospitals of Leicester Trust: £1.3million

Exemptions apply to people applying for indefinite leave to enter the UK, asylum seekers and domestic workers who have been identified as victims of slavery or human trafficking.  

The NHS otherwise only offers free hospital care to residents who live in the UK ‘on a lawful and properly settled basis for the time being’. 

Staff are required to ask patients where they have lived for the past six months to determine if they are ‘ordinarily residents’ of the UK.

Visitors from the European Economic Area (EEA) can access treatment free-of-charge if they present a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or other official healthcare documents.

If someone visits from a non-EEA country for more than six months, they will likely need to pay the immigration health surcharge, which is usually £400 a year and is paid at the time of their visa application.

Visitors of less than six months can typically claim for healthcare on their personal medical insurance. 

However, some services at NHS hospitals are free for all regardless of their immigration status. 

These include A&E, treatment for most infections diseases, and therapy for a physical or mental condition caused by torture or violence. 

GP care is also free providing a person is registered with a clinic and can prove their address. Those in the UK for a short visit can register as a temporary patient. 

The individual GP practice decides whether or not to accept new patients but cannot refuse on discriminatory grounds.


A&E and GP treatment in the UK are free for everyone. 

People who are ordinarily resident in the UK, meaning they are there legally and have been for six months and don’t have plans to leave, are entitled to free NHS hospital care.

People from European Economic Area (EEA) countries may be able to get free care in the UK if they have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) – the care is paid for by an agreement between European countries.

Free care is also available to people who have claimed asylum, are refugees, are in full-time education, are a UK Government employee, or are a victim of human trafficking.

Non-EEA people who have applied for a visa to live in the UK but have been there for less than six months must pay a health surcharge of £400 per year which entitles them to the same level of care as an ordinarily resident person.

If a non-EEA national does not pay the surcharge and needs NHS care they may be charged for it according to a National Tariff Payment System.

Source: Department of Health

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