The National Health Service (NHS) is set to miss its target of recovering £500m ($608m) a year from treating overseas patients, the National Audit Office (NAO) has said. The government spending watchdog, said that the Department of Health and the NHS had made progress over the years in recovering the cost of treating foreign visitors, who were not entitled to free hospital treatment.
However, it added that amid current trends and charging rules, it could fall short of £150m of the target by 2017-18.
Amid concerns that the NHS was "overly generous" to overseas visitors, the Department of Health launched a programme in 2014 to implement existing regulations more effectively to help the NHS increase revenue from overseas visitors.
The move was intended to improve the financial position of NHS, the publicly funded national healthcare system for England.
After the introduction of this programme, the amount collected by NHS's hospital trusts increased from £73m in 2012-13 to £289m in 2015-16. However, NAO said it expected only £346m to be collected in 2017-18, which is significantly less than the £500m target.
The NAO blamed this shortfall – in part – to the failure to taking into account the cost of administering the programme. The watchdog said many patients were not paying full amounts they owed. It added that the charging regulations were complex, because of which the staff working in these trusts had to sometimes use their judgement to determine if a patient should be charged or not.
"Trusts face a particular challenge in recovering the cost of treating patients who are personally liable for the cost of their treatment, mainly visitors from outside the EEA. It is not possible to calculate a precise debt recovery rate by comparing the amounts charged and recovered in the same year," the NAO said in a statement.
Commenting on the report, Amyas Morse, head of the NAO said, "Hospital trusts remain some way from complying in full with the requirement to charge and recover the cost of treating overseas visitors.
"In the past two years, the amounts charged and amounts actually recovered have increased. Much of this increase is the result of changes to the charging rules. "If current trends continue and the charging rules remain the same, the Department will not achieve its ambition of recovering up to £500 million of overseas visitor income a year by 2017-18 and faces a potential shortfall in the region of £150 million."