Healthcare in England is provided by National Health Service, a public health service, which is non-discriminatory and free at the point of use though there are charges attached to eye tests, dental care, prescriptions and various aspects of personal care. Health Is a devolved matter In the united Kingdom, therefore other members of the UK have their separate bodies, which provide healthcare elsewhere. Aside from the public healthcare, there Is also private healthcare available. But It Is used by less than 10% of the population.
Health tourism is a type of tourism in which patients from highly developed countries travel to other highly developed countries to receive medical treatment. Typically, travelers look for places which perform advanced surgeries such as Joint replacement or cosmetic surgery. Patients with rare genetic disorders may look for countries where those disorders are better understood. Health tourists look for better standards and lower prices, that differentiates them from people who travel to other countries because treatments, which they need are unavailable in their countries.
London Is the most popular medical tourism destination In England and one of the most popular and lucrative destinations In the world. Even though London does not promote Itself as such, It still gathers patients from around the world, especially from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Medical travel agencies very rarely promote the British capital as a destination, because it offers no bargains, the hospitals and clinics located there do not pay commissions to agencies for patient introduction and very rarely work with the agencies at all.
It prefers to gain reputation through quality of services offered rather than promotion. Many hospitals further attract patients by organizing accommodation for relatives and offering interpreters or special menus. First ever comprehensive assessment of health tourism has been conducted and released to public in 2013. A report, commissioned by the Department of Health, stated, that foreigners cosseted the British taxpayers 2 billion pounds a year.
Almost 400 million of that goes on patients who are able to and should pay for their treatment, but are never charged, because of the Inability to trace them by the hospital. Another 300 million is spent on tourists who arrive in England just to receive deiced care. All of those numbers are estimates made published in the independent report commissioned by the Department of Health. Other reports give numbers varying between 20 million pounds and 200 million pounds as the cost of medical tourism. The biggest cause of those discrepancies Is the varying definition of ‘health tourists’.
Some studies define them as people who come to England specifically to obtain free healthcare and others apply the term to those who visit UK frequently for reasons other than healthcare and still register with General Practitioners. The other reason for difference In numbers Is that some researchers add foreign students and workers to the numbers of health tourists, even though those groups are entitled to INS care. In opposition to those studies two schools, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and York university, released their report, in which it is stated that those instead of losing it.
What is more, the the study also gives 219 million pounds as an amount of money left by health tourists in hotels, restaurants, shops and means of transport. That would mean that foreign patients not only pay for their treatment, but also strengthen British economy by spending money in British businesses. Another observation those researchers made is that more people leave Britain in search of medical treatment than arrive there from other countries. According to their numbers 10 thousand more people left the country than came there.
All those factors would make medical tourism very profitable for INS, which contradicts the assumptions of many other studies and the government, who say that it is a serious problem, that needs to be taken care of. Where do such vast differences in numbers and profitability come from? There are many reasons. One of those is the unclear definition of health tourists, which may be defined as people who come to the country with intention of receiving free healthcare or those who come to Britain regularly and are only sometimes treated for some minor injuries or symptoms of illnesses.
The other reason is that no one up to this point has tried to quantify the number of health tourists or the amount of money spent on them or received from them. Nobody knows how big the problem is or if there even is a problem. The only officially known figure is 12 million pounds – it is he amount of money written off by INS as unpaid charges of a total of 33 million pounds it spent on treatment of foreign nationals. That means, that INS is unable to collect the payments from its foreign patients, because they are either unable to pay, impossible to trace or British officials Just cannot do so.
INS workers are struggling with their current workload and are unable to deal with the amount of bureaucracy necessary to pursue the payments. The abandoned claims move on to the next year and that results in the total debt climbing up, which in turn makes the expenses seem bigger from year to year. All in all, health tourism does not seem to be a problem of any kind for England. In fact, it seems that it could bring in quite a lot of profit to the INS and if monitored correctly and could be a very lucrative venture.
Unlike many politicians and researchers believe, most foreigners pay for their treatment and leave some extra money in cash registers around the country, while on the free hospital stay. What is more, even if all the spending on health tourists were to be completely cut off, it would barely affect the INS spending as a whole, seeing how care for foreigners consumes but a small fraction of a total spending. Seeing how quick some politicians were to act on incomplete data makes me assume that issue of medical tourism is not about healthcare or spending, but rather about immigration.
Popular belief, that foreigners cost British taxpayers billions of pounds a year in healthcare, would make it easy for stricter immigration laws to be passed in the Parliament. It would also allow for additional taxation of foreign students and workers, who are entitled to free healthcare. Furthermore, measures proposed would be difficult and expensive to implement. It would require an increase in the number of INS office workers, so they an follow up on all the cases of missing payment and to contact foreign authorities if needed.
Another solution would be to make Gaps, who are already overburdened with bureaucracy to play the role of border guards and check all their patients for people who need their medical care. It would be unwise for Britain to try to stamp out health tourism, as the costs of combating it would be more costly than current costs of letting it run. Additionally, Britain would lose all the income from the tourism industry, which they currently earn from the extra money spent by medical tourists during their stay.