Today the papers are full of claims about how much health tourism costs the UK, like this:
The figures come from a study by a firm called Creative Research, commissioned by the Department of Health. But are they trustworthy? And do they support some of the claims being made?
- The figure of £2billion is nothing to do with "health tourism"
- It really isnt "100 times more then previously claimed", as the Daily Mail suggests
- The figures are very rough estimates, and make some questionable assumptions
The £2billion figure doesn't refer to "health tourism".
The £2billion - around 2% of the NHS's total budget - is a rough estimate of the total cost of treating everybody who isn't ordinarily resident in the UK (around 30million people visit a year, most of them on short-term trips).
That's not the same as health tourism, which is "people who have travelled to England with the deliberate intent to obtain healthcare to which they are not entitled". The bulk of that £2billion covers people who are here legally and are using health care services to which they are perfectly entitled.
You can see the Mail quietly acknowledges this - they put the £2billion figure prominently up near the headline words "health tourism" (without explicitly linking the two), but further down the article use the much lower figure of "up to £300million" for genuine health tourism.
The estimates for the actual cost of health tourism are really unclear, but probably less than £300million.
That "up to £300million" actually means "somewhere between £70million and £300million, we think, maybe." There's virtually no good evidence on how much health tourism actually costs; these figures are guesstimates that cover a massive range. Obviously, the papers are reporting the highest possible figure.
The study explicitly warns that "the numbers are very uncertain and are plausible ranges rather than distinct estimates. These numbers should be used with caution."
Basically, this is the government trying to work out the cost of health tourism:
This really, really isn't 100 times more than previously thought.
£20million was a figure given by the government previously for the amount of money lost over five years due to written-off debts. £2billion is certainly 100 times more than £20million! That's because it's a figure for a completely different and much larger thing. It's the total cost of treating non-residents, not the amount of recoverable money we didn't recover - which is a fraction of a fraction of that total.