HC Deb 23 April 1968 vol 763 cc22-4
37. Mr. Wilkins

asked the Minister of Health why statistics are not available in his Department as to how many foreign visitors receive free medical and/or hospital treatment in Great Britain in any one year, and the costs of such treatment to his Department.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Julian Snow)

The number of overseas visitors receiving free treatment is not thought to be large enough to justify the work involved.

38. Mr. Wilkins

asked the Minister of Health what is the annual average amount of money recovered in fees from foreign visitors who receive medical and/ or hospital treatment during their sojourn in Great Britain.

Mr. Snow

This information is not available.

Mr. Wilkins

Is not this an extraordinary omission? Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware of the great public interest in the cost to the National Health Service of treatment of foreign visitors, especially at a time when we must impose prescription charges on our own people?

Mr. Snow

I think that my hon. Friend must be speaking from information which is not at the disposal of my Department——

Mr. Wilkins


Mr. Snow

—about the incidence of the use of the National Health Service by foreigners. If he has specific cases which we could identify, we would be glad to hear about them. Both hospitals and doctors have received guidance on this matter to determine whether or not free treatment is justified.

Sir J. Rodgers

As the Parliamentary Secretary has no idea of the number of foreign visitors who receive treatment free, nor what amount of money is expended on that treatment, how can he say that it is negligible?

Mr. Snow

Because we have had no representations from the hospitals about this matter. I think that most hon. Members will deplore the xenophobic tendency by some elements of the population.

Dr. Miller

Would not my hon. Friend agree, however, that reciprocal arrangements are developing in other countries permitting treatment to be given free to British citizens there?

Mr. Snow

Yes, that is perfectly true. Unfortunately, our system has a basis different from those abroad, and in this country identification by means of an identity card, which would make checking possible, is not available.

Mr. Dean

While no one would wish to deny treatment to foreign visitors, may I ask whether the Parliamentary Secretary is satisfied that there is no abuse of our National Health Service by them? In view of his rather vague answers this afternoon, will he have another look at this matter?

Mr. Snow

My answers were not intended to be vague. We have received no representations from hospitals where the burden of this type of treatment might be expected to fall. However, if the hon. Gentleman has any cases which can be identified, we shall be glad to look at them.

Dr. John Dunwoody

I agree that the problem is apparent rather than real. However, would not my hon. Friend agree that the solution lies in the extension of reciprocal agreements with other countries, such as those with Scandinavia and Yugoslavia? What progress has been made in this respect?

Mr. Snow

Progress is slow, largely because of the difference of the services in those other countries, but the ambition to achieve more reciprocal agreements is ever present in our minds.