Saturday, 17 March 2012

Health board owed £130k for treatment of foreign nationals


FOREIGN nationals not entitled to free treatment are said to owe Swansea Bay's ABM University Health Board more than £130,000 — the second highest figure in Wales. According to figures obtained by the Welsh Conservatives, only Cardiff and Vale UHB is owed more, at just over £200,000. ​ Darren Millar AM The Welsh Government has now said it is looking at further measures to help health boards recoup their costs. Figures obtained by the Tories following a Freedom of Information request show the money owed to the NHS in Wales more than doubled between 2008 and 2011. Of the £380,000 that was unpaid, at least £199,311 is still outstanding to Wales's seven health boards, while a minimum of £185,700 was written off after bosses exhausted efforts to be reimbursed. Shadow Health Minister Darren Millar AM expressed concern at the figures, arguing the Welsh NHS was in no position to be owing substantial sums of money. He said: "There are strict guidelines in place for explaining details of charges to patients who are required to pay. "The Welsh Government should look carefully at how well these rules are followed. "Any money written off by the NHS is regrettable when budgets are being squeezed so hard. The big rise evident in these figures is of great concern." The figures show that, in 2008/09, £70,815 had not been paid back. In 2010/11 that had increased to £257,713. And the Tories also claim there was been a downward trend in the rate of collecting money owed, down from 71 per cent in 2008/09 to 43 per cent in 2010/11. Some treatments, such as medical emergencies at A&E or compulsory psychiatric care, remain free of charge for everyone in Wales — regardless of where they are from or how long they have lived in the country. Other procedures, which include non-life-threatening outpatient care, are supposed to be paid for by non-EU residents. But the process and guidelines are far from straightforward as some countries have signed healthcare agreements with the UK. This makes its citizens exempt from some charges. ABM officials could not be contacted for comment. A Welsh Government spokesman said: "All visitors to Wales requiring NHS treatment are assessed as to their eligibility for free NHS treatment. "All treatment received in an accident and emergency department is free to all. "We have issued clear guidance to NHS organisations which states that they should recover the cost of caring for overseas patients who are not entitled to free care. "We are looking at what further measures can be introduced to support NHS organisations recover costs."

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