NOTE: Several readers doubt the veracity of this report. Checking a bit further, I found that this incident also been reported by The Independent, which reports that this circumstance was highlighted by the Royal College of Midwives. That’s good enough for me to take it seriously
When I lived in Edinburgh for six months doing a sabbatical, I had to go to the NHS once. I was told, to my delight, that they would treat me for free, and I always thought that was the policy of the NHS: to provide free care for those residing or visiting in the country.
It turns out that this isn’t the case any longer, and the policy of charging overseas patients, or billing their insurance, has had dire consequences in at least one case. Read the article in the screenshot below, which also gives details of another embarrassing case.
Here’s what happened:
A couple whose baby died following an emergency Caesarean were not given the body as they were unable to pay £10,000 in medical fees, one doctor has said.
Joe Rylands said the expansion of charging had caused “disbelief” among many colleagues.
The Department of Health said the charges had raised £1.3bn since 2015.
In 2018, Dr Rylands was working in a maternity hospital when a woman from Western Europe on holiday in the UK came in – she was eight months pregnant and had started bleeding. Obstetricians performed an emergency Caesarean but the baby died.
When she and her partner were recovering on a ward, they were interviewed by an overseas visitors manager, in charge of billing.
Because they did not have a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) they were told they had to pay £10,000 for the care they received – which they could not do.
“There’s a service the NHS offers when you’ve had a miscarriage or when your baby has died – they can present it to you, the body in a bassinet, you take it home to have a funeral,” Dr Rylands explains.
“That can be a really important process in grieving and recovery. And this couple were not allowed to have the body because they hadn’t paid the [treatment] bill.”
The hospital trust involved in the case declined to comment.
It was following the guidelines in billing the parents.
Apparently the policy that led to this barbaric and thoughtless act—holding a body hostage till the parents pay up—is fairly recent:
Since 2017, service providers have had a duty to check the eligibility of patients and charge them before non-urgent treatment in a bid to clamp down on so-called “health tourism”. There are exceptions – such A&E – where treatment is free until a patient is either admitted to hospital or given an outpatient appointment.
Patients from inside the European Economic Area with a non-UK EHIC are treated for free, with the government applying to their home countries to cover the cost.
Those from elsewhere will be charged for the cost of their treatment.
The article reports that several British medical societies, including the British Medical Association, has called for this policy to be abandoned completely, while others have said that maternity care should be exempt from the billing.
Look, it is possible that the NHS is in such dire financial straits that they simply cannot afford to treat people for free who aren’t British citizens or who don’t have European health insurance that can be billed. Fine; one of the reasons for the new policy was the possibility that people would come to the UK from other countries to get good treatment for free: “medical tourism”.
But what one cannot do is hold a parents’ baby hostage until they cough up the fees. It’s unimaginable that any person, much less a hospital, could do such a thing. What about someone who gets treatment and can’t pay but doesn’t have a body that can be held hostage? The NHS can dun them, as do hospitals in the US for people who lack insurance. But do not withhold a corpse!
And this goes against the Department of Health’s spokesperson, who said “Our guidance is clear that urgent treatment must never be withheld, if someone cannot pay.”
I guess what can be withheld is a body. This is shameful, and not worthy of an institution like the National Health Service.