Bosses at Blackpool Victoria Hospital say they will challenge patients over their right to free healthcare after plans to make tourists pay upfront were announced.
The proposal, revealed by health secretary Jeremy Hunt at the weekend, would mean those coming to the UK for non-emergency treatment – such as a hip operation or cataract removal – would no longer be treated first and given the bill afterwards.
Last month, The Gazette revealed how people not entitled to free healthcare had racked up unpaid hospital bills worth thousands of pounds on the Fylde coast.
In the past five years, £53,653 of debt has been written off, while bills totalling £110,147 were unpaid.
At the same time, hospital bosses have been forced to make millions of pounds of savings in the face of government under-funding, and are fighting to break even.
“The Department of Health has placed a legal responsibility on every NHS Trust to identify all overseas visitors and we have introduced a number of developments to fulfil this requirement,” the trust said.
“An Overseas Visitors Team has been established to look at all cases proactively and actively pursue any debt.
“The team also works hard to increase awareness of the issue to all staff so they can notify us of all overseas visitors and we can approach the patient while they are being treated rather than follow up their case afterwards.
“The team run regular awareness sessions and visit departments and teams to let people know the rules around overseas visitors.
“There will also be a mandatory question asked at all Outpatient Departments to confirm the patient’s residency status.”
Blackpool North MP Paul Maynard said: “Resources are finite and it is sensible that those who come from abroad for treatment should cover the cost, and part of that will include discussing payment with hospital managers.”
The British Medical Association (BMA) warned of possible ‘chaos and confusion’, however.