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Contrary To Popular Belief, Private Foreign Patients Are A Lucrative Source Of NHS Income, Say Experts

Contrary to some media reports, more currently travel abroad for treatment than international patients travel to the to access NHS or private treatment here, say researchers in this week’s BMJ.

Depending on the procedure undertaken, patients who travel abroad may also save the UK resources, write and colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of York.

Following recent debate about expanding the NHS abroad, they analysed the effects of UK medical tourism on the NHS, using freedom of information requests to . They found that, despite small numbers of international private patients being treated (6% across a sample of 28 hospitals) these patients were responsible for 35% of total private income in these trusts.

“This indicates that may be more lucrative than treated privately within the NHS,” they write.

They acknowledge that, as with most discussion of trade in health services, “much opinion is based on shaky, if any, evidence.” However, they say, “our study aims to fill that gap, and in doing so shows that many aspects of currently received wisdom are really myths.”

It also shows that “we need more accurate evidence to inform policy making on issues,” they conclude.


Letter: The UK is a net exporter of patients, Johanna Hanefeld, Lecturer, Health Systems Economics, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK