Newham hospital denies writing off debt

Newham health bosses have denied claims that they have written off more than 96 per cent of what they were owed for treating foreign patients not entitled to free care.

Newham University Hospital NHS Trust was responding to figures obtained by the BBC in a Freedom of Information request which reported that the hospital had written off 96 per cent of what it had invoiced last year.

Last year over 181,761 patients were treated by the Trust and of this number 960 patients (less than 0.5 per cent) were not entitled to free treatment.

David Gilburt, Finance Director at the Trust, said: “Where patients are not entitled to free treatment we follow Department of Health guidance and treat patients coming to the hospital for urgent or emergency care according to their clinical need and then bill for treatment as soon as reasonably possible. This is in line with one of the founding principles of the NHS: that access to services is based on clinical need and not the ability to pay.

“Following emergency or urgent treatment of overseas patients we follow a lengthy process to secure payment. This includes the initial invoice, several reminder letters and then working with a debt collection agency. It is only after this full process has been exhausted and it has not been possible for the debt collection agency to recover these costs that the outstanding monies are written off by the Trust’s Audit Committee. It is worth remembering that we aren’t crunching figures here, we are talking about people who require urgent medical attention.

“For example one man was on holiday visiting relatives who live in the UK. During his visit he had a fall and was rushed to hospital. He was seriously injured and required treatment in the Intensive Care Unit (ITU). Unfortunately he passed away some days later. The patient did not have medical insurance and so we were unable to pursue payment for his treatment. ITU treatment is very expensive and the bill for just this one patient is over �10,000. It is the type of unfortunate accident that can happen to anybody and unlike some countries here in the UK the NHS has a duty to provide access to emergency services for everyone.”

Last year the cost to the Trust for overseas visitors who were not entitled to free healthcare was �358,086. It has so far secured �13,320 of this and is continuing to chase payment for the outstanding �271,655. To date, it has written off �73,111 for the year.