Health tourism savings won't plug the hole in NHS funding

3 February 2017
What was claimed

Health tourism costs nearly £300 million on some estimates.

Our verdict


What was claimed

Recovering the costs of health tourism won’t plug the funding gap the NHS is facing.

Our verdict

Correct. These costs are relatively small compared to the amounts the NHS will need to find to maintain current services.

“Health tourism is allegedly stacking up a bill of over £200 million, nearly £300 million, depending on the figures you get”

David Dimbleby, 2 February 2017

“Even if we recover all of those costs it's not going to plug the hole that we have coming up in the NHS”

Maajid Nawaz, 2 February 2017

It’s correct that the estimated cost of health tourism is up to £300 million a year. Recovering all these costs will make only a small dent in the overall funding gap the NHS faces.

‘Health tourism’ usually refers to people who deliberately come to the UK to use NHS services they’re not entitled to for free, and people who take advantage of the system by frequently visiting the UK to use GP services and get prescriptions. The exact definitions can vary.

David Dimbleby is talking about estimates from a few years ago that suggested a range of £100-£300 million as the cost of deliberate health tourism, although the estimates are uncertain.

As Maajid Nawaz says, recovering all of these costs isn’t going to plug the funding gap the NHS is facing.  

In 2013, NHS England said it faced a funding gap of £30 billion a year by the end of the decade. The government is putting in extra funds to cover some of that gap, although experts doubt there is enough money being committed to deal with it adequately.

The estimated costs of health tourism are about 0.3% of health spending on specific services, so savings in this area alone will make a relatively small difference.

It’s also not a simple matter to recover all the money. David Dimbleby also referred to a report out this week from the Public Accounts Committee which expressed concern over the systems the government had in place..

Part of the problem is identifying who isn’t entitled to free care and needs to be charged. The committee reported that in 2012/13, the NHS charged 65% of the amounts it could have charged to people from outside Europe and 16% of what it could have charged from those within.

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