A visitor to TWITWAY brought this to my attention recently so I have been doing a bit of research. Firstly, what is Birth Tourism? It is a term to describe expectant mothers living outside of the UK, travelling here to have their babies in NHS maternity units for free.
The NHS is our National Health Service (not International) which provides healthcare for those permanently resident in the UK. Patients that receive healthcare in the UK but are not resident here must pay for their treatment or have health insurance to cover the cost of their treatment.
This is why, if you have received non urgent hospital treatment you will have been asked by staff where you have been living in the past six months. If you are not eligible for NHS treatment you will be required to pay the fees up front.
So how come expectant mothers are getting away with it? This is because the upfront fees only apply to non-urgent treatments. Life saving, A&E, GP and maternity services are still free.
So if you turn up at maternity in labour, you will not be turned away but receive all of the treatment and care required. Then the mother and baby leave the hospital and don’t pay a penny. Although the hospital may chase the patient for payment, it is never going to be easy when the mother and baby have left the country.
How much is this costing the NHS?
Figures obtained by a national newspaper claim that at least £10 million a year is lost to mothers ineligible for NHS treatment. This is just from maternity units, if all treatments received by ineligible patients is included the total is nearer £2 billion a year!
Of course as well as the financial implications there is the fact that these ineligible patients are using up resources and appointments increasing waiting times for those who are eligible for treatment.
We can’t charge for life saving treatment
I believe life saving treatment is provided in all countries, even in America, they have to stabilize a patient whose life is at risk, but that is all they are obliged to do, if you can’t pay for further treatment you are discharged maybe to a charity hospital if available. And then they will pursue payment for the treatment you have received.
On the flipside I can sort of understand how if you lived in a country with a poor healthcare system you might wish to receive better treatment somewhere else. However, we as a nation are not responsible for the poor and/or expensive healthcare provided in other countries. The NHS is under severe financial pressure as it is with constant cuts being made. We need to do everything possible to save the NHS.
The UK must get tougher
I believe we have to get tougher in the UK to safeguard the health and wellbeing of UK residents. Yes, we should provide life saving treatment to all, as there are of course legitimate cases where holidaymakers/visitors are taken seriously ill.
But before a patient is discharged all ways of receiving payment for their treatment must be investigated, not by nurses who are busy enough, but by immigration. Although expensive remember we are losing £2 billion a year to ineligible patients.
Immigration can research the patients travel arrangements, financial status and place of residence. If the patient is found to have travelled to the UK primarily for treatment to which they were not entitled, then that is fraud and should be made to pay, fingerprinted and punished before being removed from the country and not allowed to re-enter.
If you had money stolen from you, you would do something about it. Well these ineligible patients are stealing £2 billion of our money every year, money we pay through taxes and National Insurance and it is time something was done about it.
Taking a firm stance although costly to start with, will slowly get the message across that the UK is not a soft touch and that patients will pay somehow for the treatment they received and receive punishment.
What do you think?
Is there a solution? If you have any thoughts, comments or suggestions, please comment below.
Thanks for reading
Justin – founder of twitway.com