A heavily-pregnant woman from Nigeria flew thousands of miles to have her baby at a Manchester hospital costing the taxpayer around £10,000, it has emerged.
The ‘health tourist’ travelled more than 3,000 miles from her home country to the cash-strapped Wythenshawe Hospital for an emergency caesarean.
It is understood the woman, who was educated at top US university Harvard, flew to Manchester Airport and went directly to the hospital where she told doctors she required the procedure after a scan in Nigeria revealed complications in her pregnancy.
Health minister Simon Burns said the NHS is not there to ‘serve the health needs of the globe’ and said the government is reviewing the system to prevent inappropriate access to NHS resources.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, the MP for nearby Leigh, also called for an inquiry into the case.
Nationally the NHS treats thousands of patients from outside the European Union who are not entitled to free care and in 2010/11 NHs hospitals charged overseas visitors over £23m for treatment and wrote off under £7m of debts.
Hospitals often struggle to recoup their costs and seek help from Embassies. They can inform Border Agency which can block the return of any health tourist who leaves bills of more than £1,000 unpaid.
Foreign patients are charged the same standard flat rate for each treatment they receive as the NHS would pay.
The woman arrived at the hospital and told staff that she had undergone an ultrasound scan which revealed complications and she was advised to have a caesarean.
It is understood she made the journey because she believed she would be in safer hands in Britain.
Nigeria offers free maternity care but it is of poor quality and there is a high mortality rate where a woman has a one in 13 chance of dying during pregnancy or childbirth, according to statistics.
A hospital source labelled her a ‘health tourist’ and said she had required vast resources, including midwives, two urology consultants, a radiology consultant, two obstetric consultants and two anaesthetists in the delivery room.
Mother and baby recovered well and were discharged this week, it is understood. She is thought to have since returned to Nigeria.
The hospital will now try to bill the woman for her treatment but has no powers to force her to pay or to prevent her leaving the country.
The hospital trust has seen a steady increase in the number of non-EU patients it has treated recently, up from 78 in 2008/9 to 133 last year.
A hospital spokesman said: “At Wythenshawe, as with all hospital trusts across the UK, the care we deliver to all patients is free at the point of delivery.
“If a patient is a non-UK resident and treatment is considered necessary or urgent then treatment would never be withheld.
“In regards to reclaiming costs from non-UK residents who use our services, we adhere to guidelines issued by the Department of Health.
“As soon as a non-UK patient arrives our finance team are alerted and the individual is made aware, where applicable, of the costs they are liable for as outlined in the Department of Health’s national tariff.
“Every effort is then made to pursue any monies owed.”
A hospital source said Wythenshawe is targeted by health tourists because of its close proximity to the airport just over two miles away.
Last year, the government announced a crackdown on ‘health tourism’ and guidelines on how to curb the practice were published by the Department of Health.
It said hospitals could bill foreign patients for their care but the debts of people who leave the country after being treated remain almost impossible to recover.
Mr Burns said: “We won’t tolerate abuse of our national health service. The NHS has a duty to anyone whose life or long-term health is at immediate risk but it is not there to serve the health needs of the globe.
“There are comprehensive rules and procedures to charge visitors for hospital treatment but we know that the system needs to be improved.
“That is why we are currently reviewing those arrangements to prevent inappropriate free access to the NHS and provide a fairer more balanced system. Hospitals have a legal duty to recover any charges made to overseas patients.”
Mr Burnham said: “We need a full inquiry into the circumstances and how the hospital has been left in this position.
“There are clear rules about health tourism and the NHS must be able to recover its costs.”
Graham Stringer, MP for Blackley and Broughton, added: “This is simply a foreigner choosing to effectively steal off the NHS and the government should use whatever powers it has to get the money back.”
University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust – which runs the hospital – is having to cut £17.5m over the current financial year, bringing its total savings for the past three years to £47m.