OVERSEAS patients have cost the NHS in East Lancashire hundreds of thousands of pounds after failing to pay for hospital treatment.

An investigation by the Lancashire Telegraph found East Lancashire Hospitals Trust are chasing £360,757.86 owed by patients not entitled to free NHS care.

In 2017/18, £190,710.25 was owed to the trust by overseas patients, while £170,047.61 is owed in the current financial year. One overseas visitor's debt of £1,617 was written off in 2017/18, according to the figures.

Freedom of information responses show that 71 overseas patients owed money to the trust in 2017/18 and 133 do so far in 2018/19.

Patients owing money come from countries including Bulgaria, Hungary, Iran, Lithuania, Poland and Pakistan. Visitors from Pakistan alone owed £83,172.56 in 2017/18 and £34,074.86 in the current financial year.

Cllr Brian Taylor, executive member for health and adult social care at Blackburn with Darwen Council, said taxpayers should not have shoulder the burden.

He said: “People should be given the emergency treatment they require but taxpayers should not be burdened with the cost.

“I don’t know how much of the money is reclaimed but the NHS has such financial constraints and money really needs to be used for the local hospital.”

John Bannister, director of operations at the trust, said outstanding payments from overseas patients were less than 0.04 per cent of the trust annual turnover.

He said: “ELHT is a caring hospital trust whose staff provide safe, personal and effective care for patients who require treatment for illness or injury.

“However, we realise that NHS resources are valuable and limited, and have a duty to identify and charge upfront overseas patients not entitled to free NHS care.

“The trust takes a rigorous approach to collection of debt incurred by overseas patients and, whenever possible, our staff ensure the patient is charged before treatment or care is provided. When this is not possible, an invoice is raised after treatment and regular actions taken to expedite payment.

“When requests for payment are exhausted, outstanding amounts are referred to a debt collection agency.”