More UK patients travel to EU countries to receive medical treatment than foreign patients come to use the NHS, according to a study from the School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the University of York.
The study found that foreign patients are also a vital revenue stream and potential growth area for the NHS. In an examination of 18 NHS foundation trust hospitals, seven per cent of patients were foreign private patients and were responsible for almost a quarter total private income in these hospital trusts from 2010 to 2011.
Dr Johanna Hanefeld, lecturer in health systems economics at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said:
Our analysis shows that private foreign patients may be more lucrative than UK patients treated privately within the NHS. This could be a strategic area for growth for NHS Trusts wishing to expand private patient activities and increase income, especially following the NHS reforms which removed the cap on income generated from private patients.
We can also see from our research that – contrary to some popular media reports – the UK is a net exporter of patients. In 2010 an estimated 63,000 UK residents travelled abroad for treatment, while around 52,000 patients came for treatment in the UK.
The study also notes that UK patients who travel abroad to get medical treatment could end up costing the NHS money on their return. The study cites the costs for complications resulting from cosmetic tourism, and the cost of caring for pregnant women expecting twin and triplets resulting from their fertility treatment abroad.