Colchester: Hospital steps up fight against ‘health tourism’

NEW measures are to be put in place to ensure that Colchester’s hospitals do not become a destination for “health tourism”.

Staff at Colchester General Hospital and Essex County Hospital are to receive extra training in how to deal with overseas patients who may not be entitled to free health care.

The issue was raised at a meeting of the board of directors of Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust on Thursday.

Mike Baker, a non-executive director, said that the Trust had to show compassion but added: “We don’t want to be running health tourism.”

Andrew Armour, director of finance, said that the hospital had a duty of care to every emergency patient and that “nobody would be left on a trolley in A&E because they are not from this country”.

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He added: “However, there are some situations where overseas patients are getting ongoing treatment such as dialysis – is this something that the Trust should be paying for?”

The cost to the Trust for the treatment for overseas patients is about �50,000 a year out of a turnover of �200 million. The majority of treatment is paid for by individuals and there has been little bad debt historically.

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Although the problem is relatively small, Mr Armour acknowledged that in an era of cheap flights and at a time when hospitals were being asked to tighten their belts, it was important that procedures were in place to make sure that the cost of caring for overseas patients did not rise.

“Internal auditors have looked at this issue and we’re making sure that our controls are as good as they can be,” he said.

“Staff are being trained to identify patients when they come in and, if they are liable for charges, then either we will get them to pay for their treatment or discus with them ways to get home.

“Anecdotally I’ve heard that some hospitals in London have paid for some overseas patients to get home because the cost of a flight is cheaper than ongoing treatment. However that’s not a stage that we are at.”

The Department of Health has issued guidelines that all staff are required to assist in identifying whether patients are ordinarily resident in the UK and that training is put in place to ensure that all staff are fully aware of the Trust’s obligations.

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