we need chip impants to stop dhss id fraud and health tourism. it is not an international health service

Like the lookout on the Titanic spotting an iceberg, the Commons public accounts committee has issued a warning over the cost of health tourism that is draining the NHS and causing chaos for British patients.

But the thing about icebergs is, you only ever see the tip of the looming disaster. There’s much worse, unseen, beneath.

I believe MPs fail to grasp the severity of the problem, even as overseas patients rack up costs amounting to billions every year. An urgent solution is needed to save us from catastrophe — and I think that part of this solution exists in the foreign aid budget.
It is natural to feel compassion for Priscilla (pictured), who gave birth to quadruplets at Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital last year. Two of the premature infants have since died

It is natural to feel compassion for Priscilla (pictured), who gave birth to quadruplets at Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital last year. Two of the premature infants have since died

For years, I have been highlighting the growing crisis of health tourism both in the media and to NHS officials — all the way up to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

It gives me no pleasure to see headlines that prove me right. I would far rather the problem had been dealt with in 2013, when I first blew the whistle in the Daily Mail.

The latest scandal concerns a Nigerian, identified only as Priscilla, who gave birth to quadruplets at Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital, West London, last November.

Her story was featured on BBC Two’s documentary series Hospital this week.

It is natural to feel compassion for Priscilla. One of her babies died shortly after birth, while another survived only until last weekend. The other two infants, Elijah and Esther, are in the neonatal intensive care unit.

They were born three months premature, and the cost of treating them has already topped £500,000.
The cost of caring for premature infants is extremely expensive. Priscilla’s quadruplets cost the NHS around £500,000

The cost of caring for premature infants is extremely expensive. Priscilla’s quadruplets cost the NHS around £500,000

If this were an isolated case, it would have no bearing on broader NHS policy. But it is far from unusual. There have been multiple cases of pregnant Nigerians seeking NHS care highlighted in the Mail in recent years.

In one instance, a woman flew from Lagos to give birth to premature quintuplets at Homerton Hospital, East London, in 2011. Costs reached £145,000, money the NHS failed to recuperate.

In another, a mother who had a caesarean at Luton and Dunstable University Hospital, Bedfordshire, last year gave birth to twins who spent two months in intensive care, at a cost of £350,000.

Shocking practices deliberately used by some IVF fertility clinics in Nigeria make this situation more frequent.

In the UK, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority ensures that only two eggs can be implanted during each cycle of IVF treatment. If both eggs develop into foetuses, the woman will carry twins.

More usually, one of the eggs will fail. Sometimes both will. It’s difficult and tiring, and places an emotional strain on couples, but it is undoubtedly the most responsible way to carry out treatment.

In Nigeria, standards are very different. Private fertility clinics compete to boast of the best conception rates, and some will implant multiple eggs in each cycle.

Cases of triplets and quads are not uncommon as a result, and they are almost always born premature — sometimes by as many as three months or more.

And since intensive care for premature babies is either unavailable or hugely expensive in Nigeria, these women fly to Britain for treatment on the NHS.

This is what a number of Nigerian IVF merchants ‘advise’ them to do, as late in term as they can manage. They come on a visitor’s visa — almost like a package holiday.

Once here, they know no airline will risk flying them back to Nigeria so close to their delivery date. And the NHS has to treat them — as all pregnancies are treated as priority cases, like infectious diseases (but unlike hip operations).

Because the NHS is so disorganised, without effective communication between hospitals, it’s impossible to know the full scope of this.
Priscilla cannot pay the bill for her babies’ care. But the cost could be recovered by deducting money from the £380million Britain gives Nigeria in aid every year

Priscilla cannot pay the bill for her babies’ care. But the cost could be recovered by deducting money from the £380million Britain gives Nigeria in aid every year

We do know that at just one hospital last year — St George’s in South-West London — 1,783 women from overseas gave birth. And that about 50 per cent of them were later found to be ineligible for free NHS care.

The hospital has admitted it was probably targeted for being an easy touch, because it did not carry out robust eligibility tests. What we don’t know is how many of those women had multiple births . . . or were from Nigeria.

Priscilla openly admits she cannot pay her bill of £500,000, and rising. But that is no reason for the Department of Health to write it off. Nigeria currently receives £380million in UK foreign aid.

We should calculate the burden on NHS budgets from its nationals — in particular the pregnant women who travel here for free neonatal care — and deduct it.

This would make a sizeable hole in the aid package.

We should also consider freezing that aid altogether, unless the problem of reckless private IVF clinics in Nigeria is addressed.

If we do not, there will be many more tragic cases like Priscilla’s, and they will rob the NHS of badly needed funds.

But this is just one way that health tourism is draining our resources. Yesterday, a colleague at a major London hospital told me of another scam, which he is seeing more and more: identity fraud.

Patients from India and Pakistan are flying to Britain and turning up at hospitals. They arm themselves with false names and addresses, often of a relative.

Unless they are challenged by a doctor who knows the real individual personally, which is highly unlikely, the scam is undetectable.
Priscilla was from Nigeria but many of the worst health tourists are from India and Pakistan and often use the names of friends or relatives who are British citizens

Priscilla was from Nigeria but many of the worst health tourists are from India and Pakistan and often use the names of friends or relatives who are British citizens

My colleague frequently suspects fraud, but can do nothing about it.