‘Foreigners abusing system’ claim contradicted by research that also shows more people go overseas for treatment than arrive
Medical tourism is a lucrative source of income for the NHS, according to a major new study that contradicts many of the assumptions behind the government’s announcement that it will clamp down on foreigners abusing the health service.
Eighteen hospitals – those deemed most likely to be making money from overseas patients – earned £42m in 2010, according to researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and York University. Medical tourists spent an estimated £219m on hotels, restaurants, shopping and transport in the UK.
The researchers also found that more people leave the UK seeking medical treatment abroad than arrive in this country for care: about 63,000 people from the country travelled to hospitals and clinics abroad in 2010, while considerably fewer, about 52,000 people, came here.
The research flies in the face of assertions by Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, that the tourists cost the health service money.
He said on Tuesday: “It’s time for action to ensure the NHS is a national health service – not an international one. With the NHS already under pressure from an ageing population, it cannot be right that large amounts of taxpayers’ money is being lost through treating people who should be paying from foreign countries.”
But the lead author of the new study, Johanna Hanefeld, from the faculty of public health and policy at the LSHTM, said the government-commissioned research published on Tuesday was “much more across the government immigration agenda than anything to do with health”.