Lax legislation allows foreigners who have never paid taxes in Britain to access medical care in their own countries at the expense of the National Health Service (NHS), an investigation has found.
The Daily Mail investigation, which was published on Monday, revealed that foreign nationals who claim to be living in Britain are obtaining free European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) and charging the NHS in their own countries.
The EHIC cards are intended for British people to use in urgent medical emergencies anywhere in the EU, allowing related treatments costs to be charged back to the NHS.
Applicants need to be a resident in the UK to apply for one of these cards.
However, the investigation found that the NHS has been issuing over five million EHICs per year without keeping record of the number distributed to foreigners.
Undercover reporter for the Daily Mail Ani Horvath, who spent less than a day in Britain, managed to obtain an NHS number and EICH card.
One of her fellow reporters posed as a landlord and offered her a fake tenancy agreement to use as proof of address when registering at a GP in London to obtain the NHS number.
The Hungarian reporter, who has never paid tax in Britain, took the card to hospitals in her own country.
She could have used it to get skin treatments and maternity care paid for by British taxpayers.
A maternity clinic staff member told her that a “lot of people” had registered for appointments paid for by the NHS.
The reporter could have also registered for a liver transplant costing £47,000 or maternity care amounting to £9,500 with the card.
Foreigners from Romania, Poland, Lithuania and Slovakia have reportedly gloated online about how they had charged Britain for health treatments in their countries, claiming “no one even blinked.”
One woman posted a message on an online forum, saying: “All necessary arrangements to do with the pregnancy and childbirth will be made free”.
“I was very surprised that there were not so many run-ins with the authorities.”
Another person said: “No one even blinked. Everything was solved with the EHIC card.”
Over £721 million has been spent on refunding other European countries for treating people with EHIC cards over the past five years.
The Department of Health (DOH) said they don’t know how much money has been claimed by foreigners to get treatment in their home countries.
The government has admitted there are loopholes in the system that need to be addressed. Health Minister Alistair Burt has spoken out on the issue, calling it completely unacceptable.
“It is completely unacceptable that people living outside the UK think they can abuse our NHS,” he said in a statement.
“That’s why this government has already introduced tough measures to clamp down on migrants using healthcare without making a contribution, to save half a billion pounds within a few years.”
Consultant surgeon Meirion Thomas argues the availability of EHIC cards must be restricted.
He told the BBC EHIC cards “shouldn’t be given out for five years” and they should be “more difficult to get hold of.”
Speaking separately on BBC Radio 4’s Today program, he said the foreigners aren’t entitled to an EHIC card because “they don’t make any contribution to the health systems in their country.”
“It’s already got around, it’s there, it’s in the real world. Migrants come into this country and ask for EHIC cards,” he said.
“But they all have UK EHIC cards. The reason is they can go back to their own country or travel anywhere in Europe and they have got, basically, health insurance.”
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