A Welshman who fell ill after visiting family in Cambridgeshire was shocked to discover that NHS England would not be picking up the bill for his treatment.
Nicholas White, 64, from Gwynedd in North Wales was given a bill for £1,775 for treatment in an English hospital, because under the terms of devolution and the NHS funding structure he is classed as a “foreigner”, the Telegraph reports.
Mr White was shocked when the bill arrived after he was taken ill in Huntingdon, just before Christmas.
“I was told that because I was Welsh I counted as a foreigner and would therefore have to pay,” said the retired teacher.
He spent three days in Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire undergoing tests and was released with suspected gallstones. A few weeks later, the hospital, which until recently was managed by a private company, offered him an appointment for a gastroscopy to investigate what was causing his pain.
Mr White went to his regular GP in Barmouth, who advised him to take the appointment at the English hospital because it could be six months before he was offered something in Wales
Unaware that the cost of the procedure would have to be paid to the trust where he was having his treatment, he travelled back to Hinchingbrooke Hospital for the investigative procedure.
But moments before he was due to have his operation, Mr White said he was taken into a side room by an administrator and told that because he was “technically a foreigner” he would have to pay for the cost of his treatment.
“I was dressed up ready for the op – I had the printed wristbands already on – when they ushered me in. I was told that because I was Welsh I counted as a foreigner and would therefore have to pay,” he said.
The bill for £1,775 (Erfyl Lloyd Davies )
While recovering from the procedure, he said he was “shocked” to see a letter posted through his door with the word ‘IMPORTANT’ written in red ink. It was a bill from the hospital saying his £1,775 was overdue.
The NHS trust responsible has admitted that the bill should have gone directly to Mr White’s local trust who would have then paid it.
On receiving the invoice, Mr White called his Barmouth GP, who told him not to worry and that “the operation should go ahead”. But after he arrived home, another bill was posted to his home.
“At the time, I didn’t worry too much because my local GP told me if I was to receive an invoice that they would deal with it. Then last week I had a reminder stating my balance was ‘overdue’,” said Mr White, who complained he found the experience “unsettling”.
“Recently retired, I do not have access to that sum of money. If, as a resident of Wales, I need to travel to England in the future, do I need to take out medical insurance? Does this apply to English visitors to Wales?” he asked.
A Hinchingbrooke spokesman said: “There are well-established rules about how Welsh patients use the English NHS, and we follow those guidelines.
“In this case it would appear the invoice was sent to the wrong place due to an admin error, and we were a bit confusing about who has to pay – we’re sorry for that.
“We certainly don’t think the patient has to pay, and payment will be arranged between us and the health board.”
A Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board spokesman said: “It is usual practice for NHS bodies to bill the health board directly when North Wales residents receive NHS care in other parts of the UK.
“The invoice should just have been sent straight to the health board. We would have paid it directly, without ever involving the patient.”