The government must take “urgent action” to recover more money for treating so-called health tourists, a group of MPs has said. A Public Accounts Committee report says the system for recouping costs from overseas patients is “chaotic”. Chairwoman Meg Hillier attacked the government’s “failure to get a grip” as “simply unacceptable”. The Department of Health said it would be announcing “further steps very shortly to recover up to £500m a year”. Ms Hillier, MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, said the NHS was missing out on “vital funds”. “The public rightly expects the government to enforce the rules, and more can and should be done to recover money,” she said. The report calls on the Department of Health to publish an action plan by June, “setting out specific actions, milestones and performance measures for increasing the amount recovered from overseas visitors”.  NHS hospital care in England is free for UK residents, but those visiting from overseas are charged for non-emergency treatment.  In October, it was revealed the government was expected to fall short of its target of recovering £500m a year from overseas visitors and the Department of Health “refined” its target for 2017-18 to £346m.  Responding to the PAC report, a Department of Health official said: “This government was the first to put measures in place to make sure the NHS recoups money from people who are not eligible for free care. “Some hospitals are already doing great work, and the amount of income identified has more than trebled in three years, to £289m.  “However, there is more to be done to make sure that if people are not eligible for free care, they pay for it.  “We will be announcing further steps very shortly to recover up to £500m a year by the middle of this Parliament.” Hospital trusts in England are legally obliged to check whether patients are eligible for free non-emergency NHS treatment and to recover any costs.  The report identifies the biggest challenge to recovering costs as the lack of a single easy way to prove whether patients are entitled to healthcare.  The committee notes that while some trusts are now requiring patients to prove their identity by showing passports and utility bills, these documents do not demonstrate entitlement to free NHS care.

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