Exclusive: Hospitals are owed as much as £40m in outstanding fees for treatment of foreign nationals, a Pulse investigation reveals.
The findings are set to reignite the debate over health tourism, and follow cases where GPs have been under pressure to register foreign nationals not entitled to secondary care.
Responses from 35 acute trusts under the Freedom of Information Act showed they were owed an average of £230k from foreign nationals who were not entitled to free NHS care.
St George's Healthcare Trust had the largest outstanding debts, totalling £2m from £3.55m invoiced to foreign nationals for health treatment from April 2009. Barnet and Chase Farm was next, with £488k outstanding from invoices worth £934k.
The most inefficient trust in collecting money was Royal Wolverhampton, which collected only 24% of the £419k owed, followed by Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which collected 36%.
Extrapolating the findings across all 168 trusts in England estimates total debt at £40m.
A spokesperson for St George's said: ‘A high percentage of our patients require life-saving trauma, neuroscience, cardiovascular or paediatric care. We're working hard to improve the way we record overseas patients and the debt recovery rate.'
Dr Richard Vautrey, a GP in Leeds and deputy chair of the GPC, said it was important that hospital trusts put in place arrangements to ensure people could not exploit the system.
But he added: ‘We need to be careful we are not putting barriers in place that prevent people getting access to healthcare.'
Click here to read data collected from a series of Freedom of Information requests on the fees charged to foreign nationals for treatment by hospital trusts, the fees outstanding and the money written off.