The NHS is missing out on millions of pounds a year because of a “chaotic” system for recovering cash from overseas patients, MPs have warned.
In a report, MPs from the Commons Public Accounts Committee said they were “not confident” the Department of Health is taking the required steps to recover money from people who leave the NHS with unpaid bills after treatment.
The committee warned the NHS was failing to identify patients who should be charged and said the Government was not recouping enough money from European countries where reciprocal agreements are in place.
In 2014/15, the UK recovered just £50m from these countries but paid out £675m.
In evidence to the committee, the Department of Health admitted that “very little happened” for more than 30 years after legislation was first introduced to recover money from overseas patients in 1982.
As a result, trusts collect around half of the amounts they invoice.
The findings come a month after Freedom of Information responses from 104 trusts revealed overseas patients left the NHS with an unpaid bill of almost £30m in just one year.
Meg Hillier, PAC chair and Labour MP, urged the Government to “get a grip” over bill repayments.
She said: “It is simply unacceptable that so much money owed should continue to go uncollected.
“This is a problem for the health service as a whole and work to put it right must be driven by central government.
“We are concerned that financial progress to date does not reflect meaningful progress with implementing the rules and the Department for Health and NHS have much to do if they are to meet their target for cost recovery.”
The report says the Department of Health must set out a plan for recovering more money by June.
In a statement, the department said it would announce “further steps very shortly to recover up to £500m a year by the middle of this Parliament”.
It added: “Some hospitals are already doing great work and the amount of income identified has more than trebled in three years to £289m.
“However, there is more to be done to make sure that if people are not eligible for free care, they pay for it.”