Do NHS hospitals know how to process visitors? 

With Brexit looming, perhaps the NHS will train staff to claw back some of the millions we lavish on overseas visitors.

Ministers have suddenly realised patient are fed up with funding Outpatients full of ‘health tourists’, and have jumped on bandwagon to ensure they pay.  As they have to do in every other country.

Yesterday I enlivened a long wait in ‘Urgent’ Care by watching a US visitor facing an NHS Receptionist.  The visitor tried all the tricks;  she was doing an excellent job of the ‘ancient forgetful patient’ syndrome.  But the Receptionist had obviously just had training, and was keen to show she could put this to good use.

Eventually I almost applauded as US visitor finally was made to open her purse and get out her credit card. Looking across the room I could see she had a good selection, so obviously wasn’t short of a bob or two – but was determined to play the system and get what she could for free.

At last this hospital is taking its responsibilities seriously. In the past it has said, in writing, that its Receptionists are too busy to process EHIC and other credit cards – but too many of us have seen these staff spending time chatting to the Ambulance drivers, and know that they aren’t using their time productively.


Staff will need training in how to process payent, but it should be ‘easy-peasy’ to the average GP receptionist – used to saying “no appointments for three weeks”.  Just draft a few into A & Es near Heathrow, and they would soon deny anyone coming here to take advantage of free treatment.  Or fly back into Britain for an appointment in three week’s time!

Finally Government is waking up

Conservative estimates put cost of treatment given out each year from free as equivalent to NHS running costs for almost a week.

At last there seems to action to plug this loophole.  There are murmurs about reciprocal free treatment for our citizens in the EU, but abroad if you own a property you pay in to local taxes; this will entitle you to similar treatment as would be given to a native of the country.  If you don’t pay taxes, you don’t get free medical treatment. Simples.

What could go wrong here?

Gina. daughter of an Italian friend, developed a pain when staying one weekend.  Told her A & E was place to go, so she rushed round collecting her EHIC card and her medical insurance; her father had wanted to ensure she was covered for every eventuality.

At A & E they said they were too busy to look at cards – four Receptionists were occupied with talking to Ambulance drivers.

Gina came out, furious that she had had to wait TWO HOURS to see a doctor!  Tried to tell her she was lucky to be seen so quickly, but I was furious no-one had asked for her EHIC card, so at least the NHS could claim back the cost  No-one was interested.  One Nurse even reassured me “Oh! It’s free. She doesn’t have to pay”.

What happens abroad

Last time I fell into a Hollybush (as one does when riding strange bicycles in Austria) I was met by one efficient Receptionist in the General Hospital.  She processed my EHIC card, took an impression of my credit card, and 30 seconds later I was called in to see the doctor.  Brilliant service.

Two weeks later I received a bill for £21;  I had been charged for small extras not covered by the NHS.  The bill had been taken from my credit card, was so that I could claim this from the NHS, but it really wasn’t worth it.

What will happen here?

With resentful staff, and Nurses insisting that the NHS is ‘free’ for everyone, can you see people being charged in the UK?  Even if they do have an EHIC card?  Whatever the huffing and puffing that comes out of Hunt and Cameron, it will be a case of a teeny mouse roaring.

And another thing

I worked abroad for many years, and never once was I given an interpreter in A & E.  When I was working as a Tour Manager for American groups I was expected to interpret – it was part of my job, and onme reason why passengers paid to go on a tour..  So why does the NHS spend millions on providing this service for free?

We are mugs.  And frankly, I prefer the generally slick and efficient European service that ensures everyone pays in some way or another;  to the NHS ‘free at the point of delivery’ and wait for hours and hours. 

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