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Gold, incentives and meh

How 'health tourists' pay more often than not, daily aspirin 'risky' for the healthy and why mothers-to-be should hit the treadmill

A round-up of the health news headlines on Friday 25 October.

Twice as many foreign patients pay for health services in the UK as those who come to exploit free healthcare, the Independent reports today on its front page, which promises to dispel the ‘truth about health tourism’.

The paper reports on new research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and University of York which found the NHS makes more money than it loses from so-called ‘health tourism’.

The academic study found that 18 NHS trusts together made £42m from paying foreign patients in 2010-11 and said it was likely that the number already paying for services was double that of those coming to take advantage of the system.

Over on the BBC, an official NHS study examining the benefits and risks of taking daily aspirin to ward off future heart attacks has concluded that healthy patients should not be advised to take the drug.

The study concluded that for those who do not have a particularly high risk of stroke or heart attack the risks outweigh the benefits.

Professor Aileen Clarke, who led the review, told the BBC: ‘The risks are finely balanced and for now there is not the evidence to advise people to take it. It would be lovely to say over-50s should take an aspirin a day and have much less cancer, but the research hasn’t yet been done and we should be cautious. We need to be extremely careful about over-promoting aspirin.’

Another study focused on heart disease steals the limelight in today’s Telegraph, with US and German scientists suggesting mothers should exercise during pregnancy to help protect their children from heart attacks later in life. The study, which tested out the theory on pigs that they made run on treadmills, indicated that this altered the development of vascular smooth muscle to the extent that it could have benefits long into adulthood.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • With reference to the article in the Independent - this is a very disingenuous article. Many hospitals offer both private and NHS care. It is private paying patients that bring in this money. Health tourism is mainly perpetrated by visitors to the UK who deliberately target the NHS, often with serious pre-existing conditions, or who regularly visit family and take the opportunity for a trip to the local surgery, repeat prescriptions, referrals to hospital etc. If you want to know whether the problem really exists, speak to the Overseas Visitors Officer (who has the difficult job of trying to identify chargeable patients who do not wish to be identified) at any major hospital, particularly in London, and ask them for the true picture - as with most issues, it is the people on the front line who have knowledge and understanding of the matter. It should also be noted that the amounts of money lost to the NHS by people who do not pay their bills only represents those who have been identified as debtors, not the very many more who have not.

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