UK Impact

Got your papers in order? Then welcome to soft touch Britain: Top doctors blow whistle on EU health tourists who bleed NHS dry

  • Top doctors say health tourists are ‘milking the NHS dry’ with treatments
  • Guidelines grant complex therapy to people who claim to live in the UK
  • Old rules forced people to prove they had lived here for six months
  • One Spaniard obtained £200k cancer care by using a friend’s address 

They are being granted complex therapy – sometimes worth hundreds of thousands of pounds – thanks to ‘incredibly lax’ guidelines governing full access to Britain’s treasured Health Service, medics have told The Mail on Sunday.

Despite Government claims that it is cracking down on health tourism, the doctors say these instructions potentially allow immediate access to everything the NHS has to offer to around 500 million Europeans.

Top doctors say European ‘health tourists’ are being granted complex procedures in the UK by claiming they are residents when they arrive in the country (file picture)

 All that individuals from across Europe have to do, say the consultants, is come here and claim to be ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK – which they can do by quoting a friend or relative’s address.

Until recently, official guidance was that EU passport holders had to prove they had been living in Britain for at least six months to qualify.

But new guidelines have all but scrapped the ‘six-month rule’ – plainly stating: ‘It is perfectly possible to be ordinarily resident here from the day of arrival.’

As a result the senior doctors say:

  • Patients are coming to hospital straight from the airport to demand treatment for serious diseases they have had for some time;
  • One Spaniard racked up bills topping £200,000 for cancer surgery and drugs – none of which he was billed for – by simply claiming he was living at a friend’s UK address;
  • Eastern Europeans are regularly flying in for treatment they cannot get at home, which can cost tens of thousands of pounds, by claiming to be staying with relatives;
  • Expatriate Britons who have not paid taxes or lived in Britain for decades are also eligible for immediate treatment.
 Bizarrely, people can even claim to be ‘ordinarily resident’ both in their home country and in Britain – meaning they do not have to prove they live here full-time to qualify for all NHS services.

They merely need to be able to show they are in the UK lawfully ‘for settled purposes as part of the regular order of their life for the time being’.

The Department of Health guidance, pictured, that allows EU nationals care on the day they arrive in the UK

The Department of Health guidance, pictured, that allows EU nationals care on the day they arrive in the UK

Foreign visitors and short-term migrants cost the NHS up to £2 billion a year, according to an official report published in 2013. It estimated illegal use by ‘health tourists’ made up £300 million of that figure.

While many EU passport holders have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) this only entitles them to free NHS urgent and emergency care.

By contrast, ordinary residence grants access to everything including expensive cancer drugs and even fertility treatments such as IVF.

The UK’s policy is in stark contrast to that of other European countries, where British citizens must pay tax or be enrolled in an insurance scheme in order to access routine health services.

Last night, eurosceptic Tory MP Peter Bone said: ‘If that’s not an invitation for health tourism, I don’t know what is. It seems to be an open door for anyone in Europe to come here and claim treatment.’

The MP for Wellingborough added: ‘This will be another reason why people vote to come out of the EU. It’s the sort of abuse that drives people in my constituency up the wall.’


A Spaniard obtained cancer care worth £200,000 – by giving a friend’s address to claim they were ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK.

Their only prior relationship with Britain was that they had once worked here for less than a year back in the 1990s.

The patient underwent two operations – costing £20,000 each – and had two radiotherapy sessions with Gamma Knife machines, also at £20,000 a piece.

In addition, the patient benefited from three cancer drugs – one of them cost £120,000.

Most of the doctors who have raised the issue with The MoS have done so on the condition they remain anonymous – knowing that to raise it publicly would jeopardise their careers.

They have also censored details of European health tourism cases they know about to maintain patient confidentiality.

But one of them, a London cancer consultant who has treated ‘lots of Eastern Europeans’, revealed: ‘The issue of health tourism, where patients come for urgent but not emergency treatment, is increasing.

‘My team alone treats at least one patient a week in this category and if you multiply that across the whole NHS, that’s an awful lot of people.’

He continued: ‘Cancer treatment has to start in days or weeks of a diagnosis and, once it has started, you can’t stop.

‘It is very expensive – major surgery can cost £20,000 and drugs can run into the thousands.’

‘The expert said cuts to the Cancer Drugs Fund meant treatment of bowel and pancreatic cancer had gone back ten years, ‘as patients now can’t get the drugs they need. Yet we also see patients who are not entitled to treatment, getting treatment.’

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, pictured, is facing calls to clamps down on the 'abuse of the NHS'

 Writing in The Mail on Sunday another cancer surgeon, J Meirion Thomas, says he believes the problem is so serious it needs ministerial intervention.

He added: ‘Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt urgently needs to address these incredibly lax guidelines to clamp down on abuse of the NHS.

‘Sadly, every time I write offering to talk him through the problem I am told he is too busy to see me.’

Another NHS insider said EU passport holders were swiftly claiming ‘ordinarily resident’ status to access dialysis and maternity services.

The source said: ‘One of the biggest problems is elderly family members of EU citizens already in Britain, coming over and claiming ordinary residence. The definition is so wide it is easy to manipulate.’

Even though it wrote the guidelines, the Department of Health recognised in a consultation published in December that there was a serious problem.

A spokeswoman said yesterday: ‘We are changing the law to stop EEA nationals coming to the UK and becoming ordinarily resident to get free NHS care.’

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