Health tourists paying £1,000 bribes to get onto GP surgery lists before having thousands of pounds worth of NHS treatment for free
Panorama investigation uncovered a black market serving foreign patients eager to buy their way onto GP surgery listsOnce registered with a practice patients can be seen by GPs and potentially referred for expensive hospital treatment



07:01 GMT, 3 October 2012

NHS staff are illegally accepting cash from health tourists to give them access to free hospital treatment, an investigation has found.

It has uncovered a thriving black market in which foreign patients are buying their way on to GP surgery lists for up to £1,000 a time.

Once registered with a practice, patients are being seen by GPs and then referred for hospital treatment worth tens of thousands of pounds.

'Black market': Foreign patients are buying their way onto GP surgery lists with bribes of up to £1,000, according to an investigation by the BBC's Panorama programme

'Black market': Undercover reporters found foreign patients could buy their way onto GP surgery lists (file photo)

The investigation by the BBC’s Panorama programme found one manager at a surgery in the West Midlands was offering to register an entire family from India for £5,000.

He also took £800 from a female undercover reporter posing as a health tourist to put her on the practice’s list.

The reporter claimed to be an Indian patient suffering from the back condition sciatica, which wouldn’t merit free treatment as it isn’t deemed urgent.

But she was subsequently referred to hospital for an MRI scan that would have cost the NHS £800 – the same as the cost of her place on the list.

The unidentified manager told her it was ‘good business’ as she had already got her money back with the cost of the scan – and would be likely to benefit from more expensive treatment. The manager said: ‘Just with the scan you’ve made your money.’

The investigation also discovered that ‘fixers’ – who aren’t employed by the NHS – are putting overseas patients on GP lists in exchange for cash.

These individuals are likely to have close ties with managers or doctors within the surgery who agree to register the patients.

An undercover reporter posing as a Kosovan illegal immigrant bought a place for £200 through a fixer in Southall, West London, and was later given free X-rays at hospital.

And another unidentified fixer selling places on practice lists in London said: ‘Once you have a GP in this country, there is nothing you want to do that you can’t do.’

Tory MP Chris Skidmore, who is campaigning for tougher regulation on health tourism, said: ‘This is nothing short of abuse of precious NHS resources. It’s highly irresponsible of somebody to be making money out of patients who are vulnerable.

‘The law is clear: if you’re not eligible for free treatment then you should be paying for it.’

Hospitals graphic

Earlier this year an investigation
by Pulse magazine estimated that over the last three years health
tourists had been given free hospital treatment worth £40million.

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Health Minister: 'We've got to tighten up the system', Anna Soubry has said

at hospital A&E units and walk in clinics is also free. GPs have
discretion about whether or not to charge patients who are not on their
lists depending on how urgent the patient’s case is considered.

staff are meant to check patients have been living in the UK for the
past 12 months before treating them, but many do not do so.

it is probable that once a patient has been registered with a GP – even
at a price – he or she will have access to free hospital care worth
thousands of pounds without having to pay.

Panorama investigation found that a third of 133 hospital trusts who
replied to Freedom of Information requests did not check whether
patients were entitled to treatment.

Health minister Anna Soubry admitted she was ‘surprised it’s not more than that’.

on the programme, she said: ‘We know there are abuses but we know that
some GP practices put quite strict rules and regulations in place before
they will accept somebody on their books.

‘And we know that we’ve got to tighten up the system, that’s why we’re having a review.’

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of ethics and science at the British Medical Association, said: ‘Nobody likes people gaming the system – coming to the UK and thinking they can just get access to things they wouldn’t be able to access in other countries.’

In June it emerged that one unnamed foreign patient who was being cared for by Barts Health NHS Trust in London had fled owing around £500,000 in medical bills.

In another case Nigerian-born Bimbo Ayelabola flew to the UK to give birth to quintuplets and received around £200,000 in NHS care. She is married to a wealthy businessman and is thought still to be living in the UK, fighting deportation.