A hospital is chasing a £350,000 bill racked up by a Nigerian mother who flew to Britain to give birth to twins.
The shocking figure exposes the scale of abuse of the crumbling National Health Service, NHS (the public health service in the UK), by health tourists.
The UK Mail reported that the woman, who has not been identified, had a caesarean section at Luton and Dunstable University Hospital.
She had been transferred there from another hospital because of pregnancy complications. Her twins then spent two months in intensive care.
The British government has been accused repeatedly of failing to clamp down on health tourism, which is thought to cost up to £280million a year.
Patients face fewer checks on eligibility for free treatment than in other countries. The bill comes to light at a time when the NHS is in the grip of an unprecedented winter crisis, itself blamed on lack of funds.
With doctors saying conditions in A&E are the worst they have seen:
– It emerged that hospitals have started taking the unprecedented step of cancelling cancer operations;
– A poll suggested 78 per cent of voters would like the aid budget used to help the NHS;
– Theresa May was accused of ‘scapegoating’ GPs in a row over surgery hours;
– Nearly half the hospitals in England declared major alerts through overcrowding;
– Doctors warned the worst may still be to come as flu cases increase.
The case at Luton was uncovered through a series of freedom of information requests sent by the Mail to all hospitals in England.
A spokesman confirmed the hospital was owed £348,683 by the Nigerian mother who gave birth to twins in 2015. The woman had been transferred from another hospital nearby due to complications during the pregnancy and the babies spent two months on the paediatric intensive care unit.
Luton is one of just three paediatric intensive care units in the East of England, and the trust said it could not refuse treatment ‘if there was a danger to life’.
The responses from 90 hospitals revealed that 13,077 overseas patients were treated in the UK in 2015-16, including 3,066 mothers who flew in to have their babies.
These women were responsible for some of the highest debts and a significant number are understood to have come from Nigeria.
Imperial College Hospitals in West London said it was chasing a £319,895 bill for a woman who gave birth to triplets. Staff at the trust have since disclosed that this autumn they looked after a 43-year-old Nigerian woman who gave birth to quads. She went into premature labour on the flight to London and one of the babies died.
The costs of caring for the surviving three infants have passed £100,000 and staff predict a final bill of half a million pounds.
Doctors are faced with a dilemma over eligibility because they are obliged to provide immediate medical care regardless of a patient’s nationality or whether they can pay. Experts say our hospitals are being targeted, in particular by wealthy Nigerian mothers-to-be.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: ‘The NHS is in a critical state due to lack of resources, so any abuse from health tourism should be stopped. The sums of money are astonishing. Most patients would be concerned about the vast sums of money not being reclaimed and the potential for this money to be spent on frontline services and staff – which could improve the quality of care and the time in which people receive care.’
Professor Meirion Thomas, a cancer surgeon who formerly worked at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, said: ‘These massive debts are staggering and should be investigated by NHS fraud officers. Patients don’t arrive at specialist hospitals with serious illnesses by chance. It is likely there are facilitators and accomplices who enable this fraud. They may be friends or relatives or even health professionals.’
Tory MP Peter Bone said: ‘This has been a longstanding problem and it costs millions a year. We need the Health Service to implement a system whereby the person going in for treatment has a right to have it or has the means to pay.’
It is not the first time a Nigerian woman has racked up a huge bill on NHS maternity wards.
In 2011 Bimbo Ayelabola, 38, cost the NHS £145,000 after giving birth to five babies. She had come to Britain on a visitor’s visa soon after discovering she was pregnant in 2010.
The two boys and three girls were delivered by caesarean at Homerton Hospital, East London, and needed neonatal care for several weeks.
Miss Ayelabola has since returned to her home city of Lagos, where she is a make-up artist. She drives a £17,000 car and her five children attend an expensive private school.
In 2015 she told the Daily Mail she had never been sent a bill by the NHS. She added: ‘If (health tourism) is a problem, you should talk to the NHS. I have never received my bill. If I had it, I would pay it.’
Andrew Bridgen, another Tory MP, said: ‘Those who are not eligible for free healthcare must pay. If we don’t address this issue it will only grow.
‘There appears to be huge reluctance amongst clinicians not to charge people for free healthcare. We cannot afford to fund an international health service.’
One Nigerian, Bimbo Ayelabola, racked up a bill of £145,000 in giving birth to quintuplets in Homerton Hospital, East London, in 2011, and has not paid the money back.
Nigerian women and their husbands swap tips on how to give birth in NHS hospitals in an online discussion forum called Nairaland. Although many claim they intend to pay the full costs, they may not be able to do so if the birth is complex.
A spokesman for Luton and Dunstable Hospitals said of its case: ‘This patient was an overseas visitor and was referred to us by another hospital because of complications with her twin pregnancy.
‘As an NHS Trust we cannot refuse to treat a patient, wherever they are from, if there is a danger to life. In this case two unborn babies required immediate care.
‘They were delivered safely but spent two months in our Neonatal Intensive Care and High Dependency units. This is the reason for the high cost and we are currently pursuing the patient for payment.’
Ian Eardley of the Royal College of Surgeons said the NHS was under tremendous pressure.
‘More and more patients are going to A&E and there is more difficulty in getting patients home – it’s not something we are comfortable with,’ he added.