A BRADFORD hospital trust has collected less than a quarter of the money it is owed by overseas patients.

Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request have revealed the Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (BTHFT), which includes the Bradford Royal Infirmary and St Luke’s Hospital, has recouped only £195,978 out of £833,064 in the last three years.

And the Airedale NHS Trust is still trying to recoup nearly £60,000 for the same period.

One MP has described the situation as “deeply concerning”, while the Taxpayers’ Alliance said those in need of emergency care while in Britain should get it, but the system is “far more open to abuse” than in continental Europe.

In 2015, the amount invoiced by BTHFT amounted to £223,037, with £51,986 being recouped, in 2016, £338,935 was invoiced, with just £86,959 recouped and in 2017, £271,092 was invoiced, but only £57,033 was recovered.

The Trust says it has a legal obligation to identify patients who are not entitled to free NHS treatment - and to make and recover charges for the services provided.

“We are making good progress on collecting ‘upfront payment’ from those people who are not entitled to free care,” a Trust spokesperson said.

“Systems are in place to both identify and collect overseas visitor income and, in accordance with government guidance, we also share information about outstanding debt from overseas patients with the Department of Health.

“This prevents a patient with NHS debt from re-entering the country or applying to stay.

“The majority of outstanding debt still owed to the Trust relates to urgent care cases where people needed immediately necessary medical or surgical attention like life-saving trauma, cardiovascular or maternity care, and where all avenues to recover this money continue.

“Under Department of Health policy on overseas visitors, no-one is denied immediately necessary or urgent treatment on cost grounds, but any admission to hospital is chargeable. We make every effort to secure payment before treatment is scheduled but if that proves unsuccessful the treatment will not be delayed or withheld and the patient may pay after treatment.”

Airedale NHS Foundation Trust is also chasing payment from overseas patients.

Since 2015, it has managed to collect £89,055 of £148,801 - leaving nearly £60,00 still to be recovered.

However, it says some patients have repayment plans in place which accounts for some of the outstanding amount.

A spokesperson for the Trust said when a potential overseas visitor/patient who is not legally resident in the UK is identified, they are referred to the Overseas Visitors Team and their status as ‘chargeable’ or ‘exempt from charges’ is formally established.

Evidence is then requested to support ‘exempt from payment’ patients and if this evidence is not provided, a charge will be levied. Evidence is also requested to support the decision that a charge should be made.

The spokesperson said: “We identify, check eligibility for free non-emergency NHS care, request supporting evidence and then invoice the patient where chargeable. Actions are being taken to resolve outstanding amounts.”

Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley, described the situation as “deeply concerning” and said: “At the end of the day, it’s a National Health Service, not an international health service.”

He said that money is needed for the NHS and is money which could be spent on people locally.

James Price, Campaign Manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Barely a day goes past without health bosses pleading poverty and asking for more money yet these are huge sums that are just being written off. Obviously those in need of emergency care while in Britain should get it, but our free at the point of use health system is far more open to abuse than those of continental Europe.

“The Government has stressed the importance of recouping the money they can from chargeable patients but if this is not happening or if health bosses are not bothering to do it, the Government will have to start penalising those that are failing in their duty to taxpayers.”

A Department for Health spokesperson added: "The NHS is a national, not an international, health service. Hospitals must make sure they charge people for using the NHS if they aren't eligible for free care, and they are getting better at identifying those people.

"To help the NHS recover even more money, we've introduced new laws so that hospitals must charge overseas patients before treatment takes place instead of chasing unpaid bills afterwards.”